October 16, 2018

Columnas Volantes: an Underground Paper and a Guerrilla Outfit in 1900 Batangas

Image source:  the Sandra Plummer Collection of the Fort Worth Texas Digital Library.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Image source:  the Sandra Plummer Collection of the Fort Worth Texas Digital Library.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
[In this article: Philippine Revolution, Columnas Volantes de la Federacion Malaya, Lipa Batangas, Lipa City, underground newspaper, Jose Rizal, Philippine-American War]
This writer first came across the name “Columnas Volantes” while reading up on a 1900 murder case in the former town of Batangas. Translated directly from Spanish, the name means “flying columns.” End notes to a 2002 book1, edited by Hazel M. McFerson, gave a first clue as to what the name signified. “Columnas Volantes,” it was written, “literally means ‘Flying Columns,’ a reference to underground newspapers and leaflets that were hard to catch/confiscate.” These newspapers and leaflets were apparently published and distributed early in the American colonial era when there was still resistance to United States rule.

In the town of Lipa in 1899, however, there was being published during the Philippine American War a bilingual newspaper called “Columnas Volantes de la Federacion Malaya” (Flying Columns of the Malayan Federation). The newspaper was edited by one Gregorio Solis Aguilera Jr., an original member of a mysterious secret society founded in Paris in 1889 by the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal2.

The mysterious society’s name was Rd. L. M., the meaning of which is yet to be deciphered beyond doubt by historians. However, Rizal’s nephew Dr. Leoncio Lopez-Rizal in an article written in 19603 conjectured that the initials stood for “Redencion de los Malayos” (Redemption of the Malays) and that the group, therefore, was formed to further Rizal’s vision of founding a Filipino colony in Borneo where they could live with more freedom than in the Philippines4.

It is therefore likely, or at least according to Lopez-Rizal, that the newspaper “Columnas Volantes de la Federacion Malaya” was initially published as a tool to further this vision of Jose Rizal. The newspaper’s original purpose, Lopez-Rizal noted, “was to publish something of an organ of the Filipino people marching ahead and together with the Malayan people as a federation…5

The name “Columnas Volantes” was also apparently adopted by one of the guerilla groups resisting the American presence in the country in 1900, in most likelihood affiliated with the army of General Miguel Malvar in Batangas. These guerrilla units were set up after General Emilio Aguinaldo dissolved the First Philippine Republic as well as the regular army and set up small marauding fighting units “that would enable the Filipinos to capitalize on their vastly superior knowledge of the landscape and offset their disadvantaged position in the conflict6.”

That one such guerrilla unit was known as “Columnas Volantes” was mentioned in the particulars of several 1900 murder cases in the then-town of Batangas that was tried by the United States Army against one “Gregorio de Castro, captain of Columnas Volantes…7 De Castro was a resident of the town of Batangas. At that time, the entire province of Batangas was still under governance by the United States Army.”

The first of these was cases was the murder and decapitation by de Castro of Private Peter Cooper of the United States Volunteer. Next was the shooting by the same man with a rifle of one Mariano Rojas, a native of the town of Batangas. The last was the stabbing and killing with a dagger of one Chinese named Leung Sui in the market of Batangas.

The results of the military trial are irrelevant to this article; but just to make a long story short, de Castro was hanged for his crimes in November 1900. What is more important is that the military report on the trial gives insight on the guerrilla unit “Columnas Volantes.” The unit was described as a “flying company detailed exclusively to the secret extermination of the American cavalry and infantry” and as a “piratical commission.”

De Castro was said to be “in command of certain native Filipinos, names unknown…” Another description said he was “teniente” (lieutenant) of “one of the bands of guerrilla marauders infesting the country.” The guerrilla marauders, of course, was none other than the so-called “Columnas Volantes.”

Notes and references:
1Mixed Blessing: The Impact of the American Colonial Experience on Politics and Society in the Philippines,” edited by Hazel M. McFerson, published 2002 in the United States of America.
2Revolutionary Spirit, Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia,” by John Nery, published 2011 in Singapore.
3Rizal, Rd. L.M. and federalism,” by Noel Villaroman, published 2016, online at the Philippine Star.
4 Nery, op. cit.
5 Nery, ibid.
6The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars,” Spencer C. Tucker, Editor, published 2009 in the United States.
7Charges of Cruelty Etc. to the Natives of the Philippines,” by the United States Secretary of War, published 1902.

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