Revisiting the Philippine-American War

By: Bernardo M. Villegas

As the nation prepares to celebrate another holiday in honor of Andres Bonifacio on November 30, I would like to revisit some details of the Philippine-American War that involved my maternal grandfather, General Miguel Malvar. Since my mother, Isabel Malvar Villegas, is still living and is in good health at the age of 99, General Malvar is the only national hero with a surviving child. We, his descendants, should continue our efforts to set the historical records straight about his role in the Philippine-American War.

In the most complete biography about my grandfather, written by UP historians Doroteo Abaya and Bernard Karganilla, we read (pp. 108 to 109) that upon the death of Andres Bonifacio and the assumption of the presidency by Emilio Aguinaldo, a series of events unfolded which led to General Malvar’s becoming the Second President of the Philippines and Chief of Staff. Upon Aguinaldo’s capture in Palanan, Isabela, by the Americans on March 23, 1901, a leadership vacuum was created but only temporarily. Based on the succession decrees that Aguinaldo himself issued, General Malvar would take the presidency of the republic: “The June 27, 1900 decree specifically designated General Trias to succeed Aguinaldo in the event of his capture, death, or whatever form of incapacity to perform the function of office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Philippine Republic and its Army. General Malvar became a contender to Aguinaldo’s post when General Trias surrendered. Malvar was Trias’ second-in-command. Thus, by virtue of Aguinaldo’s succession decrees of February 16, 1899; November 13, 1899; and June 27, 1900, General Malvar, with Trias’ surrender, became the logical successor to Aguinaldo’s post and to the leadership of the Filipino struggle against the Americans.”

Likewise, the Filipino Revolutionary committee (or Hong Kong Junta) officially confirmed Malvar’s assumption of Aguinaldo’s post. This was in consonance with a provision of Aguinaldo’s June 27, 1900, decree where it vested the Hong Kong Junta with the authority to assume Aguinaldo’s post during the interregnum following his possible death or captivity while looking for a successor. It was this authority that the Hong Kong Junta invoked when it confirmed Malvar as Aguinaldo’s successor.

Recently, a relative of mine, Dr. Potenciano Malvar, got hold of an original letter written by my grandfather to General Arcadio Maxilom, one of the generals fighting the Americans in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. Written in Spanish, the letter clearly indicated that General Malvar was acting as the Commander-in-Chief after the capture of General Aguinaldo. Let me translate the letter into English:

“My distinguished lord and companion: The trials that have fallen on us during our campaign have been such that your official and private correspondences addressed to our honorable President and Chief of Staff General Aguinaldo, whose whereabouts are unknown as he is hiding from our enemy, have come into my possession. I have opened these letters so that I can answer you in the name of our government.

“Upon learning of your most appropriate actions, I am highly gratified by your policies and the decisions you have made to reestablish order in your area of jurisdiction. I applaud your activity for the good impression that I have obtained in reading the brilliant account of your operations. For this reason, it is with great pride that we manifest the confidence that our country has in those children of hers who have suffered so much as slaves of duty and discipline. For you, as worthy Chief, our heartiest congratulations.

“For the 20th of July following the holding of the General Assembly, my headquarters have appointed the Generals. On my part, I assure you that on that same day you will receive the corresponding title. If you are not able to attend the Assembly, we shall send the appointment through the officers who will come to represent you and all the others in your territory.

“I am sending you enclosed my own manifesto and a list of the guidelines and instructions which have been issued up to now for general knowledge and fulfillment. I expect that through said representatives of yours, I can be apprised of everything that has occurred in the provinces of your Islands, both as regards civil as well as military affairs.

“I request you to send to their respective addresses the enclosed documents. Receive the appointments of those in the staff that you have formalized which will be ratified by the documents when they do arrive.”

“Here in Luzon, there are frequent combats with American military detachments which have helped us increase the number of guns in our possession. For this reason, we have to discredit the many erroneous reports that come from the newspapers in Manila taken generally from sources that are against us or from the offices of the occupying American forces.

“Other matters can be recounted to you verbally by the bearer of this note.

“I take advantage of this opportunity to greet all of you and to send you my most cordial embrace. I offer myself to you as your unconditional friend, comrade and servant.”

Signed: Miguel Malvar, 14 May 1901

“P.S, I ask my General to disseminate the manifesto and guidelines herewith contained to the Islands and provinces of Jolo, Cotabato, Iligan, Puerto Princesa, Mindanao, Calamianes, Paragua, Zamboanga, Davao, and others by means of exact copies of these documents, translating them into the languages of the localities for general knowledge and compliance.”

Given this authenticated document in the handwriting of my grandfather, I have no doubts that General Miguel Malvar was indeed the Second President of the Philippine Republic. For comments, my e-mail address is