Miguel Malvar: the general who fought US imperialism


MANILA – Amid the Duterte administration’s increasing openness to the influence and entry of foreign governments and corporations into the country, it will do Filipinos well to remember those who stood up against foreign deception and oppression: revolutionaries who served the country and waged armed struggle against colonizers.

Among them was General Miguel Malvar, who was born on this day, Sept. 27, in 1865 in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. He was the regional commander of the revolutionary forces which fought the Spanish forces from 1896 to 1898. He became the overall military commander of the succeeding war against Americans, following the surrender by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and his top men.

A little known hero, Malvar may best be remembered for his manifesto, issued at the height of the Philippine-American War. On July 13, 1901 in Mt. Makiling, he condemned the US and its aggression, and called on revolutionaries to carry on the resistance against the American colonial forces. This was in spite Aguinaldo’s surrender and subsequent call on Filipino forces to lay down their arms.

“To all Filipinos, determination, determination, and always determination, without hesitation about sacrifice…Let us continue waging war, because the people’s determination is more powerful than the strongest army,” said Malvar in his manifesto, originally written in Spanish.

A fitting tribute was the short book, “Miguel Malvar, Komandante Heneral na Lumaban sa Imperyalismong Estados Unidos” (Miguel Malvar, the commandant general who fought US imperialism). The book, written in Filipino for young students, was published in 2015 by three progressive study centers, Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino (LKP), Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (Pais) and the Ecumenical Intitute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler).

The main researchers for the book were retired professors of the University of the Philippines Manila Dr. Edberto Villegas and Doroteo Abaya. Villegas is a direct descendant, a grandson of Malvar.

“Like Malvar, we should not be beguiled by sugarcoated words, like ‘friendship,’ ‘cooperation,’ and other forms of deception by foreign countries, and by sweet promises of corrupt politicians of the present day,” said the book’s editors.

Trust not the oppressors

Fighting two colonizers in succession – the Spaniards and the Americans – Malvar knew better than to believe pledges of aid from foreign powers, which come with strings attached, if not outright force. He also criticized fellow Filipinos who turned traitors to the revolutionary movement and colluded with foreign oppressors.

A notorious example is Emilio Aguinaldo, who is hailed in many history books as “the first Philippine president,” whitewashing his lead role in selling off the Katipunan to the Spaniards and going on exile in Hong Kong. His betrayal was sealed in the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, in which he received $800,000 in exchange for surrendering himself and other revolutionary leaders.

Malvar was among those who opposed the agreement, but was threatened by Aguinaldo. He later followed in exile, but did not stay in the house rented by Aguinaldo for the Katipunan leaders. On May 17, 1898, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines upon the prodding of the American government, which was then locked in a war with the Spanish. In less than a month, Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence at his house in Kawit, Cavite. He hailed the new government as “under the protectorate of US.”

On June 15, 1898, Malvar went back to the country, with a shipload of arms, ready to return to battle. He reorganized his forces in Batangas, and by August, Malvar’s forces had liberated Talisay.

When the Philippine-American War broke out on Feb. 4, 1899, Malvar met with General Antonio Luna, to plan out offensives and stop the advancing US forces. Their plan to retake Manila, however, was foiled due to the pigheadedness of Capt. Pedro Jamolino, Aguinaldo’s ally who refused to follow Luna’s command.

Malvar’s 3,000-strong brigade, along with the Banahaw battalion led by Sebastian Caneo, launched offensives against the Americans in Muntinglupa. They later prevented US troops from docking in Laguna de Bay.

The American troops eventually succeeded to dock and enter Calamba, Laguna, but Malvar led battles of attrition against them, from August to December 1899. Although the revolutionaries failed to retake Calamba, they inflicted a major damage on the Americans, who died by the hundreds from malaria and other illnesses.

Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901, and immediately pledged allegiance to the Americans and called on the Filipino forces to surrender. His general, Mariano Trias had surrendered prior to Aguinaldo’s capture.

An inspiration in the continuing struggle vs. US imperialism

Instead of following Aguinaldo, Malvar stepped up and took over, being the next in command. He formed five regional military departments covering the whole archipelago, from Batanes to Jolo, and even one in the Marianas, or present-day Guam. These departments were divided into zones, and into provinces.He issued the directive to continue the war.

“As I salute the nation today as general of our overall army, I call on our countrymen, specially those who are exploited, to address the abuse and violence against them and others, to not shame themselves by bending the knees to the enemy and to cowardice, and not be content on useless and meaningless complaints, but instead fight in the war, or if they can’t join themselves, send their children to fight for all our rights,” Malvar said.

He criticized the imposition of laws and taxes by the Americans, which he said are worse than those of the Spaniards, and only pushes “the small peasants and national bourgeosie under the monopoly control of the US, and the farmers to the most miserable condition.”

“It is time to believe, my brethren, that freedom will never come from the oppressor, who kill the nation’s defenders and burn the towns who support them,” Malvar said in his manifesto.

He warned that genuine freedom and the real interests of the people will always be subverted to the interest of the colonizers.

Malvar also appealed to the likes of Aguinaldo and others who betrayed the nation: “I call on you, who, because of your selfish ambitions, have sold the country and did everything to offer the country, tied from head to foot, to the enemy. Join us and fight, not against your own brethren, but against a common enemy. And if you have no courage to do this, just refrain from convincing those who are fighting to bring down their arms.”

Malvar ordered production teams to plant rice, corn, root crops and vegetables to sustain food for the Filipino guerillas. They also collected contributions from those who are well-off, and according to their financial capability.

Amid the increasing casualties among Philippine revolutionaries overtaken by the American superpower, the Americans used his brother, Dr. Potenciano Malvar to track him and ask him to surrender.

On April 16, 1902, Malvar came down from the mountains and surrendered, along with his wife Olay and their children. By this time, many Filipinos have died from the war and hunger, as the Americans implemented a “scorched earth policy.” In Batangas, US forces burned vast farm lands and killed livestock, particularly in Malvar’s home in Batangas. Many revolutionary leaders have also surrendered.

Knowing his military prowess, the colonial government offered him the position of Batangas governor, and later, to be the first head of the colonial Philippine Constabulary. Malvar refused both offers, as he perceived these as collusion with the enemy.

Malvar returned to farming in his land at the foot of Mt. Makiling. He worked among the poor farmers, and gave loans without interest. In 1911, when Taal volcano erupted, Malvar gave aid to victims of the disaster.

He died on Oct. 13, 1911 from malaria, which he acquired in the mountains during the war. He was 46.

File photo: A protest in Mendiola led by the national minorities alliance, Sandugo, in 2016 (Photo by Kathy Yamzon)

Malvar was a revolutionary who spent his life serving the country and helping others. The book’s authors hailed him as a true Filipino hero and valiant example of selflessness.

“It is admirable how Malvar kept a strong connection to the Filipino masses, relied on them as the main force that will bring the Filipino nation to a higher stage in history, and opposed the rich who considered the masses as uneducated……His life should remain as an inspiration in the continuing struggle against US imperialism,” said the book.

An article similar to the book is posted in yonip.com, “Talambuhay ni Heneral Miguel Carprio Malvar,” and was written by Dr. Edberto Villegas and Prof. Doroteo Abaya.

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