The mock battle of Manila Bay

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Saturday, April 27, 2013

WHEN the natives of Cuba revolted against Spain, the US sided with the insurgents. During that time, America was already invested in the island. Maine, the American warship anchored at Havana Harbor, mysteriously exploded. That gave reason for America to declare war against Spain.

Theodore Roosevelt, undersecretary of the navy, ordered George Dewey to take his fleet to Hong Kong. That was on Feb. 25, 1898 (ten days after the Maine was blown up). In the Philippines, nationalism was as its highest peak. This was triggered by the execution of the three Filipino priests: Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora. They were alleged to have involvement in the Cavite Mutiny of 1872. Katipunan was brewing to the brim (1896). Emilio Aguinaldo replaced the leadership of Andres Bonifacio. The drama was in the Pact of Biyak-na-Bato. The sweet deal stated that Aguinaldo and his men would sail to Hong Kong as voluntary exiles. The sweet talk was concocted between Aguinaldo and US consul E. Spencer Pratt.

The Hong Kong trip could have involved 400,000 Mexican dollars. Were promises at Biyak-na-Bato fulfilled by both parties? I have my doubts. Answers would always depend on the historians of your choice. Aguinaldo’s memoirs claimed that the money given to him could be used as he pleased. On the other side, what was the deal with Dewey with Aguinaldo? Some historians could only speculate on who played the Judas role here. I opt to side with the Filipinos. I very well know that Americans are good poker players.


On May 1, 1898, Adm. George Dewey’s flagship Olympia with three cruisers (Baltimore, Raleigh, and Petrel) entered Manila Bay. They were all made of steel. On the other hand, Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo’s fleet was stationed at Sangley Point in Cavite. Montojo had his biggest cruiser, Reina Cristina, with five smaller cruisers: Don Antonio de Ulloa, Velasco, Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba and Isla de Luzon. The other vessels were the two gunboats, General Lazo and El Cano with a dispatch boat Marques del Duero.

The showdown took place at Manila Bay. Dewey delivered the command, “You may when you are ready, Gridley.”The Spaniards surrendered to the Americans after they were hit as sitting ducks. If we have to believe history, the battle started in the early morning and was over by noon with the Americans coming out as winners. While the skirmish at sea was in progress, Aguinaldo and his men encircled Intramuros. The Spaniards at the Walled City did not surrender to the men of Aguinaldo. They only surrendered to the Americans. Aguinaldo and his boys were relegated to the background only. This was the opposite of what happened in Silay. In Silay, Lt. Maximiano Correa surrendered to the Silaynon leaders of the revolution on November 5, 1898.

Adm. Dewey and Spanish Gov. Gen. Fermin Jaudenes had a diplomatic negotiation for the formal and theatrical surrender of the Spaniards. They agreed for a mock battle to be staged for the world to know. The Filipino revolutionaries were prevented to enter Intramuros. They were deprived of the victory within reach. The mock Battle of Manila was on August 13, 1898. Few token shots were made and the Spaniards (like movie actors) surrendered to the Americans who were acting like stunt men in the action movie. This benchmark in history made the United States of America as a Pacific and world power ready to police the democratic macrocosm.

Events are just like in the film, the script is there ready to be interpreted by the antagonists and the protagonists as directed. Aguinaldo and his men were given the role of extras. That is how history is written. The turn of events would always depend on who writes history, his story!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 27, 2013.


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