By Quintin L. Doroquez
HANG THE DOGS: THE TRUE TRAGIC HISTORY OF THE BALANGIGA MASSACRE
New Day Publishers
Quezon City, Philippines
Mail Order Bookshop
$24.95 (paper, 462 pages)
Hang The Dogs: The True Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre
quite an intriguing title of a serious book. If the book, or any
book for that matter on related title, were set in or were about the
British Isles, where the author is originally from, it may outright
invite distaste on sight from animal lovers of which Britons mostly
Hang the dogs -- that's quite a harsh “edict”, coming as it does
from a third party (the author) if addressed to a particular party
or group alone involved.
However, Bob Couttie's edict, if we call the title of his book on
the Balangiga Incident as such, is an aphorism directed to the party
that did something wrong, the party that should make amend. And in
the Balangiga Incident both parties -- the Americans and the
Filipinos, to varying degrees -- do need to make amend.
In war the two sides, combatants if you will, try to outwit or beat
one another. Hence, one side tries to
the other in order to prevail.
Whichever side has the upper hand takes the other side as a bunch of
dogs to be hung -- “massacred” --
as did (according to historical accounts) the natives of Balangiga
on 28 September 1901, if that is the most possible way to achieve
what one or the party involved had set out to accomplish. Even
scorch and turn a big island into a howling wilderness, as did the
Americans to the
island of Samar, in the Philippines, in revenge after the Balangiga
Incident took place over a century ago. Therefore, the author’s
imperative is now merely a gesture to catch a prospective reader's
attention on a commodity in print -- a book.
which apparently is the author's metaphor for what amounts to kill,
destroy, rid, or devour a century ago in war, is all the same
throughout the ages. It still is -- to varying degrees. If Bob
Couttie were to write a book on the war in
Iraq, one could fairly anticipate his title, Strip the Dogs
Naked: The True Tragic Story Behind Misled Intelligence.
Something of the sort. The facts then emerge. He will portray,
with unassailable proof, as he did on Balangiga, that those
stripping the dogs naked, whether in a prison or elsewhere in high
places of government are themselves dogs, and more.
In Hang The Dogs the author actually turns out to be the one
hanging the “canines”. He exposes, with unimpeachable evidence, the
cravings of the Americans and the Filipinos to devour each other --
the Americans in their lust to create an empire, the Filipinos to
resist and prevent being shamed. The “awod” (a local term for
shame) factor was overriding among the Filipinos in Balangiga. Bob
Couttie does not fail to point this out.
So much about the title.
Written largely in lean prose, the book is cool. Easy to read. It
is the product of a ten-year assiduous research -- possibly the most
exhaustive work on the Balangiga Incident thus far, and will remain
so for sometime if ever surpassed. Yet still, ironically, at some
point the author hedges for want of more facts that he stipulates
must be somewhere in some repositories.
The book provides a reasonably adequate background of the Philippine
Revolution against Spain, as it does of the history of the island of
Samar itself where the town of Balangiga, the epicenter of the book,
is located. Here and beyond, the author discusses the ferment that
led a people to rise in rebellion. Adequately given this
background, the author takes the reader quickly to the
Of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, of interest is the
account -- for some reason largely unknown even to many in the
Philippines who claim to have good college education -- about the
death of Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the secret organization
Katipunan that advocated armed struggle against Spain. The
author leaves little doubt that Philippine history books -- which
Philippine students studied (under ill-prepared so-called
professors) in some allegedly reputable schools, particularly in the
decades of the ‘60s through the mid ‘80s -- had the truth swept
under the rug. That is of course the period largely of the
Marcosian era. And whoever may dispute Bob Couttie’s facts only
exposes her/his inadequacy or ignorance.
The author candidly discusses the sad event leading to the execution
of the Katipunan’s “Supremo”, the title that the founder of
the secret organization had chosen for himself. The next scenario
becomes predictable, the emergence of Emilio Aguinaldo, Bonifacio’s
rival who displayed considerable talent early in his military
career, as an undisputed military and civilian leader of a people
who for over three centuries had yearned for freedom. The unfurling
of a full-blown revolution inevitably arrived with Aguinaldo on the
Hang The Dogs
meticulously examines the events and motives behind the truce,
better known as the Pact of Biak-ana-Bato, in the revolution against
Spain. It was a truce neither side fully intended to honor. Each
side was merely buying time in order to resume hostilities at an
opportune, hopefully not-so-distant, future time. When the Spanish
authorities in Manila reneged full payment of the sum promised, the
revolutionaries, who agreed to go on exile to Hongkong under
Aguinaldo, started buying arms with the partial amount they received
while at the same time unsuspectingly courting help from America
through her functionaries in the Far East. Being at war then with
Spain and who had a grandiose design for a ward in the Orient,
America was inauspiciously eager go help.
The book narrates the alleged deals entered into between the
Americans and the revolutionaries that found Aguinaldo back in the
Philippines resuming the revolution against Spain. Such deals, in
the American perspective, weakened Spain’s ability to wage war
against a neighbor, Cuba, who herself was fighting the Spaniards
also to win independence. However, in the perspective of the
Filipinos, America was helping Aguinaldo win independence from
Spain. This was not the case, Hang The Dogs delineates.
The false promises given -- perfidies, if you will -- by the
Americans to the revolutionaries set the stage for confrontation.
The author makes it clear the Filipinos were dealing with the wrong
American representatives who deceptively made it appear they were
the right authorities. The intransigence of both sides, upon
discovery of what many would now call deceptions on the side of the
Americans, was feverish. The Americans, already assured by Spain
secretly of a real estate in the Orient called Filipinas, were more
steadfast. The Filipinos, although recognizing their inferior arms
and absence of foreign support, set their feet dug-in nevertheless
on the ground. The whole episode exploded on the first week of
February 1899 into what is called the Philippine-American War. The
road to Balangiga (to Catubig, Quinapundan, and elsewhere) in Samar
was laid, the trap for disaster set.
Along with other factors, the Filipinos could not win that war
against the superiority of men and material of the Americans in
those days, the author makes it clear. Predictably that war ended
upon Aguinaldo’s capture in a ruse at Palanan, Isabela, on March 23,
1901. However, hostilities, to the credit of the Samarnon fighters
under General Lukban via Balangiga, etc., did not formally end until
only 10 days short -- September 18, 1902 -- of the first anniversary
of the Balangiga Incident. On that date General Lukban gave up,
becoming the last general of the Philippine-American War to
On Aguinaldo and the collapse of the Filipino struggle against the
Americans, Bob Couttie also writes:
“Indeed, while Aguinaldo’s capture can be laid at the door of a
single Filipino collaborator, the failure of the Filipinos to win
their independence against a more modern force, as happened in
Vietnam many years later, should be placed at the door of those who
made colonialization [sic] by America a more attractive proposition
than tyranny of their own people.”
In the foregoing analogy, the author, while in part correct, has his
rare lapse of logic. He neglects to qualify his assertion that in
the case of Vietnam, China and the then mighty U.S.S.R., all foreign
powers, supplied the guerilla fighters with their fighting
“implements”, including some components of their booby traps.
Whereas the Filipinos, borne out by an industrial base that did not
exist, merely availed themselves with the arms they could provide
through crude, inadequate, local manufacture and whatever meager
quantity they could procure from elicit foreign sources, in addition
to those they captured from the enemy in the battlefield. They
sought aid from Japan, then already a powerful neighbor, but in
vain. Apart from but coincidental with France, Russia, and Germany,
she had her own design.
On the other hand, the author does not overlook the fact that
Aguinaldo (but only out of extreme necessity and too late in the
Philippine-American War) introduced a first in any military
struggle, his “flying column” tactic which is nothing but the
In the guerilla warfare that the author
alluded to with the less modern arms of the Vietnamese, the
Filipinos were in the cutting edge of the military strategy as
already seen, heretofore then unproven against a powerful foreign
military, in the same manner that they were in the cutting edge in
establishing the first democratic republic in Asia. Whereas, the
Vietnamese employed it -- i.e., the guerilla warfare -- after
Aguinaldo and Lukban prototyped it and refashioned to perfection in
the 1930s through the early 1940s by Mao Zedong in his struggle
against the Chiang Kai- shek’s Kuomintang.
Bob Couttie appropriately depicts the cultural aspect that served as
the underpinning of the resentment on the side of the community at
Balangiga against the Americans. Under Lukban, a leader gifted with
military talent of some measure, the Balagiganons rose to the
challenge of the occasion. They did not turn away from the
bloodshed that they knew could not be avoided.
Many commentators early on, especially American pundits, had called
the incident at Balangiga a massacre, with a strong connotation of
being immoral because of the sneak attack. Some still do. The fact
is that it was not a massacre in the immoral sense like if the
victims were sleeping. And even if they were, the American soldiers
primarily responsible for the collapse of security could only have
been court-martialed for negligence considering they were at war.
The assault took place in broad daylight with the sentries of the
Americans in place. If what happened was a massacre, then all acts
of war involving surprise -- commando raids, for example -- are
immoral, including Col. Funston’s disguised capture of General
Of course in the case of the Balangiga Incident there were no more
soldiers to court-martial. Virtually all were wiped out.
But “surprise” per se is a vital factor to a successful military
operation which a commander would readily resort to whenever
possible. The late Fleet Admiral Nimitz, one of the greatest naval
commanders the U.S. had produced in WWII, had a nine-point formula
for a successful military operation. Number five of them is
“surprise”. To him the Balangiga Incident was not a massacre; it
was a “rout” (unwritten portion, interview with this reviewer,
August 22, 1964).
That the author of Hang The Dogs pays attention with
reasonable details to the preparation of the local populace and
assiduously portrays the awry of the fighting should settle the
question many had posed on whether the Americans were justified in
their unmeasured revenge, the wanton killing and the razing of Samar
The taking of the Balangiga bells is an interesting aftermath of the
incident. Filipinos are passionately longing to get them back.
They would even settle just for one. Hang The Dogs discusses
the legal let alone the ethical bases of the Filipinos’ right to get
the bells back and the Americans’ lack of it to keep what they claim
to be war booty.
Negotiation for the return of the bells had been tried for so long
but to no avail thus far. This purports to show also that even
through diplomacy, which the Filipinos have resorted to even with
bended knees, might still dictates the terms. Hang The Dogs
clearly implies America is too powerful as to arrogate by ignoring
the helpless Filipinos.
Congratulations to the author for a good book and a job well done.
# # #
Note: In the
copy this reviewer got most of the entries in the index cannot be
referenced to the indicated pages.