An inside story: The revolution’s blood money

Published November 8, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya


Founded in 1892 by Andres Bonifacio, the Katipunan was betrayed by Teodoro Patiño and fighting began with the Cry of Pugad Lawin (a.k.a. Balintawak) in August 1896. The brutal Gov. Gen. Camilo Polavieja (called “Butcher”) fought back with reinforcements from Spain, arrests and torture for treason and rebellion, and almost daily executions at Bagumbayan of patriots from Tarlac, Bicol, Manila, and elsewhere, among them Jose Rizal on Dec. 30, 1896.

Initially successful in Cavite, revolutionary forces, by then headed by Emilio Aguinaldo, were driven back and by mid-1897 were retreating to Biak-na-Bato deep in the Bulacan mountains.  

The time was right for a truce. Spain was fighting rebellion on both sides of the world —in Cuba and Puerto Rico and the Philippines—and had no money to upgrade her military in case of war with the US. For their part, Filipino revolutionaries were also running out of steam.

NINETEENTH CENTURY MONEY Mexican dollar coins also known as “peso fuerte” and a Banco Español Filipino note (Google images).

With both sides weary and with Pedro Paterno as negotiator, agreement was reached and the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed on Dec. 15, 1897. The more conciliatory new Gov. Gen. Fernando Primo de Rivera and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo agreed that revolutionary leaders would go on exile, and among other things, on the payment of an 800,000-Mexican dollar (“Mex”) indemnity paid in three installments, 400,000 Mex upon surrender of the arms with the revolucionarios in Biak-na-Bato, and the other 400,000 Mex in two tranches upon surrender of additional arms. A further 900,000 Mex would be remitted as reparations for damage to the civilian population. 

Aguinaldo and some two dozen others promptly left for exile in Hong Kong, bringing with them the 400,000 Mex first installment (or about 380 million in today’s pesos).  There was bad faith on both sides. Not all the promised arms were surrendered (and those that were were in bad condition) and neither was the promised money fully paid. Revolutionary leaders who didn’t go on exile continued fighting and the exiles went on to buy arms and munitions with the money received in order to continue the revolution.

In Hong Kong, the group constituted themselves into the Alto Consejo de los Revolucionarios to monitor developments and to continue working for independence.  Apacible was invited as adviser. Matters turned topsy turvy with the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. While relationship with the Americans were friendly, the Consejo realized that war with the US was probable.  

The Consejo therefore dispatched missions to Spain, France, England, Japan, and China to seek recognition of Philippine independence and accelerated the purchase of arms and munitions.

Buying war material was hard enough but where in the Philippines would they go, who would accept delivery, and how would they get to the battlefields? Apacible, the one in charge, was resourceful. He tried to buy Spanish arms and munitions remaining in the Philippines but was unsuccessful, approached the Chinese premier to facilitate shipments from Chinese ports; entered into delicate negotiations with ports officials who needed monetary persuasion. A ship carrying one shipment was wrecked off Shanghai and after Feb. 4, 1899 when the Filipino-American War began, arms shipments became almost impossible. 

As chief disbursing officer, Apacible had to approve all payments. Unlike other members of the Consejo, he had not charged anything personal to the fund, not even the ₱15/month agreed upon for members’ living expenses. He noted without comment an invoice from Aguinaldo for handkerchiefs, socks, and silk shirts and remarked how Aguinaldo found time for continuing evening entertainments while forming a government, fending off the Americans, and seeking international recognition.

In 1903, after peace was restored and he was winding up his affairs in Hong Kong, Apacible made a full accounting of the revolution’s funds, paying out of his own pocket ₱2,000 with missing receipts.  

Others were not as scrupulous. A revolutionary leader from Northern Luzon (“IA”) had already drawn ₱5,000 from the Biak-na-Bato money but demanded more. It turned out that IA had been spying for the Spanish and, when the tide turned, for the Americans. The Consejo approved advances of ₱3,000 to IA and ₱47,000 to American Consul Wildman for arms that never arrived. The money was never accounted for, either.

Back in the Philippines, many wealthy Filipinos were contributing in cash and in kind (the Villavicencios of Taal gave a ship). Before October 1899, Apacible received a letter from Aguinaldo that PO, a distinguished lawyer, would deliver ₱140,000 also for the purchase of arms. PO never turned over the money and the arms order, already placed, had to be cancelled. Other sums were entrusted to BL (₱160,000), LdR (₱80,000), and FB (₱35,000).  None were received or accounted for as of 1903, long after the end of the Filipino-American War.

Apacible was outraged and contacted Pascual H. Poblete, editor of the publication La Soberania Nacional who agreed to an exposé of PO. Poblete was persuaded, however, that it was best to avoid scandal and the matter was shelved. In 1906, then Gov. Gen. Henry C. Ide learned about the matter and decided to intervene. He summoned PO and told him that any returned money would be used for the University of the Philippines. PO refused, insisting that the American government had no jurisdiction over revolutionary money. He neither reimbursed the funds nor accounted for it. In his memoirs, Apacible wrote, “Until now, August 1931, this money of the Philippine Republic has not been produced nor its use explained.”

While still in Hong Kong, Apacible was approached by a former General with a proposal for revolutionary money to be invested in a commercial enterprise. Apacible concluded it was a scam and refused. The man subsequently advanced in the American Regime government and among other posts was appointed president of Philippine National Bank. “In that capacity he granted huge loans to companies in which he had personal interests … [and was eventually discovered, tried, and convicted] by the Supreme Court and sentenced to prison terms and to pay fines.”

True to form, IA, BL, LdR, FB, and PO landed on their feet. During the American Regime, two of them were among the founders of the pro-American Federal Party; two were appointed Philippine resident commissioners in Washington; another was elected provincial governor; and the memory of one is preserved in a busy Manila thoroughfare.

Money sometimes trumps country.

Note: This article is based on Encarnacion Alzona, Galicano Apacible: Profile of a Filipino Patriot (Manila: National Historical Institute, 1971). Apacible kept meticulous notes and maintained an extensive personal archive. Much of it was destroyed with his Malate home during World War II but enough survived for Dr. Encarnación Alzona, distinguished historian and U.P. Professor, to write an authoritative biography. 

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