By Peter Jaynul V. Uckung , Senior History Researcher, National Historical Institute
The Americans captured President Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901. On April 19, 1901, he took the oath of allegiance to the United States. He then made an appeal to his generals to surrender. That same year, his best generals surrendered; General Manuel Tinio of Nueva Ecija and General Tomas Mascardo in May; General Juan Cailles of Laguna in June; and finally closing the book of the first Philippine Republic was the surrender of General Miguel Malvar of Batangas on April 17, 1902.
Malvar’s forces were considered by the United States as the last remnant of the regular Philippine army. Those who persisted in fighting the Ameri cansm were considered outlaws, brigands, bandits and criminals and must be dealt with accordingly.
In Samar, with the capture in February 1902 of General Lukban (he of the Battle of Balangiga fame where a detachment of Americans were killed in a daring attack by Filipino soldiers), the remaining resistance leaders called upon the Filipino soldiers in the field to withdraw to the mountains. They declared that they had not surrendered to the United States and that they, in the thousands, would continue to wage war for liberty.
The Americans were quick to consider them as a band of fanatics bordering on the criminally insane. Soon, the intrepid fighters were known as the Pulajanes (the reds), for the distinctively reddish color of their sashes. And the Americans began to fear them.
Contrary to reports that they were a disorganized band of religious militants, the Pula janes were organized into regiments and brigades with line and staff officers. Their soldiers even called themselves Carzadores (hunters), reminiscent of the Tiradores (hitters) of the soldiers of Luzon. They would hide and group themselves in the jungles and mountains of Samar; and then they would strike with utmost ferocity and effectiveness.
The jungles welcomed the American soldiers in pursuit, like a green labyrinth of death. The jungle battles that resulted in the campaign to defeat the Pulajanes were fiercer and deadlier by far than the earlier campaigns against the erstwhile Filipino army.
The Americans would try to hunt down the Filipinos in the jungles, and too often they would step into an ambush. The dense undergrowth would suddenly come alive with the shrill battle cry of the Pulajanes, and then they would attack en-masse at the Americans; usually not with guns but with razor sharp bolos. To die by the bullet was bad enough; but to die by the bolo was horrifying. Limbs were torn asunder; heads were decapitated, faces were horribly disfigured; torsos were slashed open.
The Pulajanes were also expert stalkers. They would lie in utter immobility and invisibility while an American patrol passes by, then grab the last man in the line, swiftly slicing his throat from behind or piercing his heart while gagging the victim’s mouth.
Where there were no Pula janes, there were lethal traps in the jungles. Concealed bamboo slivers, cutting like steel and dripping with poison awaited the unwary soldier. Spears wired to camouflaged trigger mechanisms were set to impale the Americans, often with deadly accuracy. Dug-out traps filled with hardened stakes were laid out like welcoming mats of horror.
The Pulajanes themselves became masters of the bolo. So adept were they with that weapon that the Americans could swear a Pulajan could parry a bullet with it. With his battle cry of “Tad-tad” (to chop off), the Pulajan was, no doubt, a cutting-edge killing machine.
The continued struggle for freedom and the ineffectiveness of regular army troops in jungle fighting necessitated the Americans to strengthen the Constabulary (created on August 18, 1901, and composed of picked American and Filipino volunteers). They, in the end, matched the intrepidity of the Pulajanes. With an adversary equally ferocious in fighting but better-armed; and a dwindling mass support, the Pulajanes were driven to the ground, their leaders executed like criminals, their endeavor considered as religious fanaticism, or worse, banditry. Their legacy went unheralded and oftentimes taken for granted by a nation whose freedom they championed and fought for with their lives.
But what a legacy they impressed upon the Americans, that whenever a veteran of the Pulajanes campaign came into sight in the mess hall and was recognized, a command would be heard: “Rise, gentlemen, this man served in Samar.”