Obscured by the fame of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Miguel Malvar and other great historical figures is one Nasugbu-born soldier whose military exploits spanned the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. His name was Juan Cailles, a Batangueño who was not even of Filipino blood. His father was Hippolyte Callais, a Frenchman originally from Lyon; while his mother was María Kauppama from British India.
Cailles studied to be an educator at the Jesuit Normal School for Teachers. For five years, he was a teacher in public schools in several towns of Cavite, Batangas’ neighboring province. Upon the discovery of the Katipunan by the Spanish colonial authorities, which forced the hand of Bonifacio into starting the Philippine Revolution, Cailles recruited a force to join the movement from among the fathers of his pupils1.
It was likely from his having been a teacher that Cailles was known among the Filipino insurgents as “Maestro,” along with the fact that he had “confidence, charisma and a commanding presence.2” Cailles was originally with the Magdiwang faction of the Katipunan, the chapter formed by Mariano Alvarez, Bonifacio’s relation3.
In 1896, his group was unable to protect the road heading into Lian in Batangas. This turned out to be costly and led to the defeat of a revolutionary group headed by Santiago Alvarez. Undeterred, he would switch factions to the Magdalo group and heed Aguinaldo’s calls for war against Spain, in so doing earning the latter’s trust4.
Enough, at any rate, for Cailles to be assigned to the Batallion Trias under the revolutionary General Mariano Noriel. He would lead the battalion in many engagements against the Spanish forces in Cavite. These battles were to prove costly to the revolutionary movement. Unfortunately, for a while Cailles dissociated himself from the movement and even led Spanish forces under the direction of the interim Governor General José de Lachambre against the very rebels he erstwhile commanded.
Aguinaldo and other revolutionary leaders would soon head out to Hong Kong as part of the provisions of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. Upon Aguinaldo’s return to the country when the Spaniards were preoccupied with their own conflict with the Americans, he commissioned Cailles as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Filipino forces that he was mustering. Because Cailles became a turncoat in the latter years of the revolution, he was initially regarded with suspicion among Filipino troops.
He would soon prove his loyalty and worth. He was again assigned under General Noriel and given the task of harassing the Spaniards in assistance of American forces at the primera zona, the area closest to the Spanish forces, during the siege of Manila.
With the inevitable defeat of the Spaniards, the Americans started to occupy Manila. American commanders tried to persuade Cailles to withdraw his troops away from the city but he stood his ground and refused. He reported the American troop build-up back to Aguinaldo and warned of the lack of funds and ammunition for his own troops. Cailles’ defiance in refusing to budge in the face of American superiority earned the respect of Aguinaldo.
With the inevitable outbreak of the Philippine-American War, Cailles rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He was also appointed by Aguinaldo, by this time President of the Philippine Revolutionary Government, as military governor of the province of Laguna.
It was when American forces started to invade Laguna that Cailles displayed outstanding leadership and knowledge of warfare. Because of superior American firepower, he avoided conventional large-scale engagements with the invading troops unless opportunities presented themselves that were favorable to Filipino forces. Otherwise, his preference was to continually harass the Americans with unconventional or guerilla warfare.
Cailles’ greatest moment came during an engagement with American forces in the so-called Battle of Mabitac, then a village in Laguna. He baited Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Cheatham, commander of the American forces in the province, with a message which the latter thought was insolent. Cheatham vowed to make Cailles “eat his words” and sent his forces to the stronghold of the Filipino forces in village5.
The Filipinos were, however, well positioned and successfully repelled the assault, in so doing killing 21 Americans and wounding 23 others. Although Cailles had been described as “one of the most skillful and merciless guerilla leaders” during the war, he showed a softer side by allowing the Americans to recover their dead and their belongings. To avoid getting his troops enveloped by expected American reinforcements, Cailles ordered the escape of his forces soon after this rare taste of victory.
This small victory in Mabitac, however, was as good as it got for the Filipinos. The Americans were not only superior in firepower but also ruthless in their own campaign to put an end to what they thought of as an insurrection. In Cavite, they burned crops and villages, thus forcing the surrender of General Mariano Trias.
Meanwhile, in Laguna, American intelligence had successfully discovered the names of all of Cailles’ fighters and started to raid his camps and arrest his supporters. This in itself was demoralizing to Cailles; but the fact also was that Aguinaldo had been captured by the Americans. Before long, Cailles with 600 of his troops marched into Santa Cruz to formally surrender to the Americans6.
With Cailles’ surrender, it was left to another Batangueño general, Miguel Malvar, to carry on the fight for the Philippine cause, one would, regrettably, have the same ending as the campaigns elsewhere.
Notes and references:1 “Juan Cailles,” Wikipedia.
2 Along with other information contained in this article, from “The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars Volume I,” 2009, Spencer Tucker, Ed.
3 “Magdiwang (Katipunan faction),” Wikipedia.
4 Along with other information contained in this article, from “The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898-1934: An Encyclopedia,” 1994, Benjamin R. Beede, Ed.
5 “Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippine to Iraq,” 2009 by James A. Arnold.
6 “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State,” 2009 by Alfred W. McCoy.