The Spanish dirge

There is an allegorically provocative painting at the Gallery XXI of the National Museum of Fine Arts – The Spanish Dirge – which depicts a pair of Indio musicians dressed in patriotic colors playing an elegy as winged angels flee from the Philippines taking with them the symbols of Spanish power. That work of art, part of the HOCUS exhibition, came to mind as I read the following exhortation:

“Do not be deceived by the Spaniards! Help the Americans who promise us our liberty.  Do not fall into the error of taking Spain to be a civilized country. Europe and America consider her the most barbarous of the century. There the weakest is persecuted. In no country today but Spain is the Inquisition tolerated. It is proved by the tortures imposed on prisoners of Montjuich, of the Philippines, and of Cuba. Spain did not fulfill the agreement entered into with Máximo Gómez at Zanjón, nor that made with Aguinaldo at Biac-na-Bato. Spain is a nation always more ready to promise than to perform. But ask for friars, soldiers, and state dependents to come and devour our wealth. Spain has nothing else to give, and God grant she will keep what she has.  Spain will flatter you under the present circumstances but do not be deceived. Providence will aid the Americans in their triumph…Do not rail against the designs of Providence, it would be suicidal.  Aid the Americans!”

That exhortation was anonymous but I suspect it was written by a member of the Hong Kong junta, Pedro Paterno perhaps or Ambrosio Rianzares who later penned the first Declaration of Independence that, wittingly or unwittingly, made the Philippines a protectorate of the USA. (Aguinaldo did not sign that one and had a second  made) So, Aguinaldo and entourage were not oblivious of what was happening on the other side of the Pacific. They were listening intently to the strains of the Spanish dirge. Maximo Gomez, the Cuban revolutionary mentioned in the exhortation, was born in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) but had fought in Cuba’s 10-year war against Spain (1868-1878). Aguinaldo was a babe in arms when that began. Gomez was a military commander when Cuba’s war for Independence started in 1895, Rizal was still exiled in Dapitan. As it reached a successful end in 1898,  Cuba’s independence struggle was somehow merged with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in the Caribbean.

The Pacto de Zanjón likened to the Pacto de Biac-na-Bato by that incendiary exhortation was signed at the end of Cuba’s 10-year anti-colonial war against Spain. It stipulated the abolition of slavery, freedom of the press and assembly, representation in the Cortes (like Puerto Rico), and autonomy.  Revolutionaries who laid down their arms were allowed to leave Cuba, just like Aguinaldo and his entourage went to Hong Kong. But the Pacto de Zanjon failed for lack of compliance compelling Lt. Gen. Antonio Maceo, Jose Marti, and Juan Gomez, to name only a few, to renew Cuba’s struggle against  Spain in August, 1879. Incidentally, former Governor-General of the Philippines, Ramon Blanco, was sent to Cuba to replace Valeriano Weyler,  “The Butcher,” who had aggravated the situation in Cuba with his cruel “reconcentrado” (hamletting) policy. Lamentably for Spain, it was too late to appease the Cubans who refused to join the Spanish army to fight the Americans.

Our own General Emilio Aguinaldo wrote his exhortation for distribution to his compatriots: “Divine Providence is about to place independence within our reach, in a manner most acceptable to a free and independent people. The Americans, not for mercenary motives but for the sake of humanity, in response to the woes of the persecuted, have thought fit to extend their protecting arm to our beloved country, now that they have been obliged to sever their relations with Spain on account of the tyranny practiced in Cuba, to the great prejudice of the large commercial interests which the Americans have there. An American squadron is at this moment preparing to sail for the Philippines. We, your brothers, fear you may be induced to fire on the Americans. No, brothers, never make this mistake. Rather blow out your own brains than treat with enmity those who are your liberators. Your natural enemies, your executioners, the authors of your misery and your woe, are the Spaniards who rule you… Do not heed the Governor-General’s decree calling you to arms… Die rather than be ungrateful to our American liberators…”

Like our half-sister Cuba we were lured by the  siren song of “Manifest Destiny.” Cuban Gen. Maximo Gomez helped American troops take over Santiago and Guantanamo, but when the Spaniards surrendered, the Cuban general and his soldiers were barred from entering Santiago de Cuba, just as Aguinaldo was not allowed to enter Intramuros.  How ironic that the Spanish dirge became our tragic elegy.