September 12, 2018

The Macabebe Scouts: American “Attack Dogs” in Batangas during the Fil-Am War

Macabebes who enlisted to fight with the Americcans.  Image source:  Arnaldo Dumindin's Philippine American War 1899-1902.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Macabebes who enlisted to fight with the Americcans.  Image source:  Arnaldo Dumindin's Philippine American War 1899-1902.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
[In this article: Macabebe Scouts, Philippine-American War in Batangas, Alitagtag Batangas, San Luis Batangas, Taysan Batangas, San Pascual Batangas, Balayan Batangas, Ibaan Batangas]
The so-called town and barrio “historical data1” of Batangas are replete with stories of the abuses committed by the so-called Macabebe Scouts, who allied themselves with the United States Army during the Philipppine-American War. Consider the following excerpts:

“Macabebes once came to the place in an attempt to rape women. Women pretended to be crazy and struggled to drive the Macabebes away.” – Historical data of Alitagtag.

“When news reached the residents of Calan that Spain was defeated by the white soldiers, the Americans, the natives were more frightened for fear that the notorious American Macabebe soldiers would visit the barrio... Because of fright, many civilians evacuated to the farthest part of Calan.” – Historical data of barrio Calan, Balayan.

“Then, the Americans together with the Macabebes came to the barrio to search for some rebels. They burned the houses of those families suspected as rebels. The Macabebes made some abuses to the people of the barrio by confiscating their money and property. They also abused the women without the knowledge of the Americans.” – Historical data of barrio San Andres, Bauan.

“The women were maltreated by the Macabebe soldiers. They were greatly oppressed.” – Historical data of barrio Santo Niño, Ibaan.

[After the Americans took over the Filipino Revolutionary government] “...many Filipinos especially Macabebes joined the American forces to campaign peace and order. Then the Americans with the Macabebes came to Taysan. The Macabebes went to the barrio of Bukal and burned all the houses in that place.” – Historical data of barrio Bukal, Taysan.

“At the early part of the American occupation, Lorenzo Panganiban, colonel of the Insurrectos, was tortured at the instigation of the Macabebes, who were the favorites and spies of the Americans.” – Historical data of Bayanan, San Pascual.

“What could be easily recalled was the burning of the houses in the barrio by the Macabebes after the people were told to go down to Banoyo and concentrated for a time by the Americans.” – Historical data of barrio Locloc, San Luis.

* * * * *

Just who were these Macabebe Scouts, or Macabebes as they were sometimes loosely referred to? According to sources, these scouts were originally from an ethnic group or tribe that lived in and “around the town of Macabebe2” in Pampanga. They were likened to the Moros of Mindanao in that they were “regarded as fierce and feared fighters3.”

Although initially, the term Macabebe referred to warriors from the tribe, late in the Spanish colonial era and early during the American regime, the word was also used to loosely to denote Filipinos of the era who were of Kapampangan ethnicity. The historian John Larkin wrote: “Throughout the Spanish Period, even until the early American Period, Kapampangans loyal to Spain (especially those who fought for Spain) were referred to as Macabebes, even if they came from, for example, Arayat or Candaba or Bacolor4.”

When the Philippine-American War broke out in 1899, the Macabebes offered to serve under the United States Army. General Elwell Stephen Otis, Military Governor General of the Philippines, was skeptical of the offer, not at all sure as he was of the wisdom of arming the locals. He was overruled, however, by the War Department, which accepted the offer5.

The “historical data” archived at the National Library of the Philippines are not always reliable; but with regards the Macabebe Scouts, they are. The Americans acknowledged that they were, indeed, fierce fighters; but likewise found out soon enough that they were prone to committing atrocities and often failed to distinguish between armed guerrillas and civilians. They were also known to loot and murder when “not under the direct supervision of their officers6.”

To put this in context, however, the Macabebes were historical adversaries of the Tagalogs, their “sworn enemies” and the largest tribal group in Luzon7. This was, in fact, the reason why the War Department accepted their offer to fight alongside the United States Army, i.e. to play one tribal group against the other.

It was also not as if the Tagalogs were completely free of culpability. At the twilight of the Spanish colonial era in 1898, as the Spaniards abandoned the town of Macabebe to the Filipino revolutionaries – predominantly Tagalog – the latter burned the town down and “beheaded scores of Macabebes8.” In other words, fighting alongside the Americans, the Macabebes had a score to settle with the Tagalogs.

For their loyalty to the Spanish and, later, the Americans; and for their role in the arrest and capture of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the Macabebes – and, in a wider context, all Kapampangans – were later unfairly branded as “dugong aso” (having the blood of dogs). In an online article, Tonette Orejas explained this as “having canine-like loyalty to a point of being a traitor9.”

Whether or not the Macabebes were traitors, it has to be pointed out, was a matter of perspective. The concept of Philippine statehood was still in its infancy; and in a sense, they were loyal to the Spaniards and the Americans, albeit the loyalty likely fueled by disdain for a common enemy, the Tagalogs.

To their credit, the Macabebe Scouts would eventually evolve into the Philippine Scouts, “a military organization of the United States Army from 1901 until the end of World War II and disbanded in 1948 by the Philippines Government after the country's independence10.” By the Second World War, they had become “renowned for their discipline and bravery11,” in contrast to their reputation at the start of the 20th century.


Notes and references:
1Historical Data” refers to documents required by the administration of then-President Elpidio Quirino in 1951 of Department of Education districts around the country to reconstruct local histories destroyed during the war. These are archived online as part of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2Gentleman Soldier: John Clifford Brown and the Philippine-American War,” by John Clifford Brown, published 2004 in the United States.
3Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American & Philippine-American Wars,” by Jerry Keenan, published 2001 in California, United States.
4 As quoted in the article “Macabebes as Warriors and Mercenaries,” published 2014 by the Manila Times.
5The War of 1898, and U.S. Interventions, 1898-1934: An Encyclopedia,” by Bejamin R. Beede, published 1994 in the United States.
6 Beede, ibid.
7 Kennan, ibid.
8American Settler Colonialism: A History, by Walter L. Hixson,” published 2013 in New York.
9The fight to remove ‘dugong aso’ tag,” by Tonette Oreja, published 2014, online at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
10Philippine Scouts,” Wikipedia.
11 Brown, ibid.

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