The Story of My Capture
- An Account of Gen. Funston's Exploit
- By the Captured Filipino Leader Himself
- Everybody's Magazine, Vol. V, No. 24, August 1901
By Emilio Aguinaldo
Palanan is a little village, of houses, built of bamboo and thatched with nipa, situated on the banks of the river which bears the same name, and some six miles distant from the seashore. It is one of the most isolated places in the province of Isabela, in northern Luzon. The are no ways of communication with the outside world except rough trails or footpaths that lead over the mountains to the west, to Ilagan, or south to Casiguran, and its peaceful population of some twelve hundred souls has heard very little of the tide of war which for four years has desolated our country. Nevertheless when I first went there with my companions and our little band of followers, in the month of September, 1900, I was received with enthusiasm by these simple, hospitable people, and everything they had was placed at my disposal. I was accompanied by Dr. Santiago Barcelona and Colonel Simon Villa, my chief-of-staff. We had some seventeen soldiers, who had followed us in all our wanderings over the mountains and through the forests of northern Luzon. Barracks were furnished for these soldiers, and a house was set apart for the residence of myself and my companions.
We lived here quietly for several weeks, enjoying the few diversions in the way of amusement that the village could offer. There was a fairly capable band of music, and on Saturday and Sunday followed sometimes by a dance in the parish house, next to the church, for the young people of the village.
This continued until the 23d of November, when we received word that a force of about fifty Americans was in the mountains not far off, apparently coming to Palanan. We hastily concealed all documents and papers and other things which might reveal our presence in the town, and then left the village and went into the mountains near by, where we remained in hiding until the Americans went away, two or three days later. Then we returned to the village and resumed our tranquil existence. Not long after this occurrence our forces were augmented by the arrival of some forty men sent me by command of Major Nasario Alhambra.
During all this time we received the Manila newspapers with more or less regularity, although they were always considerably delayed in reaching us. I had the amusing experience of reading on several occasions the reports of my own death, and subsequently a detailed account of an imaginary adventure in Cavite last December, in which I was said to have narrowly escaped being captured.
In January of this year Colonel Villa, who was growing tired of our peaceful and uneventful life, asked me to give him command of forces in the field, in any province of Luzon, and it was decided between us and Dr. Barcelona to make requisition on the commanding officer of our forces in central Luzon for a reinforcement of four hundred men. It was my intention to put these men under the command of Colonel Villa, and to confer upon him the command of the military district of the valley of the Cagayan, which included the three provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Viscaya. At the same time it was decided to send orders to Brigadier-General Teodoro Sandiko, directing him to come to Palanan to relieve Colonel Villa, as chief of staff.
Accordingly, with this in view, I sent, on the 15th of January, Private Cecilio Segismundo, a man thoroughly acquainted with the country in central Luzon, to deliver several letters addressed to the officers who were in command of our guerrilla forces in that territory. Among these letters were one addressed to General Sandiko, and another addressed to General Baldomero Aguinaldo, to whom I gave orders to assume command of our forces in central Luzon, and also to send two hundred men, under command of Colonel Lazaro Makagapal, to the province of Isabela. Colonel Villa also gave the messanger, Segismundo, a pass, directed to the local presidents of the towns through which he might travel, ordering them to render him every assistance possible, and to supply him with whatever he might need. Segismundo left for Nueva Viscaya under directions to go by way of the towns of Casiguran and Baler.
We had no news whatever from our messenger until the 20th of March, upon which date I received two sealed packages, which were delivered to me by a man from Casiguran, a town about fifty miles south of Palanan. These packages contained two letters, one from General Urbano Lakuna, and the other from Lieutenant-Colonel Hilario Tal Placido. General Lakuna said in his letter, which was addressed to me, that, in accordance with my orders of the 12th of January, he was sending me one of his best guerrilla companies under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hilario Tal Placido and Captain Lazaro Segovia, both of whom he recommended for immediate promotion in recognition of the valiant and very valuable services which they had rendered.
The letter of Tal Placido was dated in Casiguran on the 17th of March. In it he said that while on the march, near the town of Pontabangan, he had encountered a party of ten Americans engaged in making maps, and that in view of the inferiority of the enemy's force he had attacked them, and succeeded in killing and wounding five of them, taking the other five prisoners. The dead and wounded he had left on the field, but the prisoners were now with his force. The letter went on to say that they had exhausted their supplies, and he thought it would be necessary to allow the men to rest a few days in Casiguran and forage for more provisions.
Immediately upon the receipt of this letter I directed Colonel Villa to reply to it, and to say that in view of the circumstances it would not be wise to permit these American prisoners to come into Palanan, for the reason that in the event that they were set free, or contrived to escape, they would be able to serve as guides to bring their countrymen down on us. It seems better, therefore, and Colonel Tal Placido was so directed, that the prisoners should be left at a place called Dinundungan, which is about five miles from Palanan, under a guard of eleven soldiers commanded by a sergeant, who should be instructed to take the prisoners of Ilagan, the capital of the province of Isabela, under cover of darkness. Once in Ilagan, they were to be liberated.
On the evening of the 22d of March another communication was received from Colonel Tal Placido, in which he informed Colonel Villa of his arrival with his forces at a place called Dibacal, distant about six miles from Palanan. He also said that his men were completely worn out with the fatigue and hardships of the march, and that they had not had so much as a grain of rice to eat in the last twenty-four hours. He begged me to send him a supply of rice at once, so that he could continue the march early in the morning of the next day. In accordance with this request I sent him a quantity of rice that same evening by a party of Negritos.
There had been a celebration in Palanan that day, March 22d, on account of the anniversary of my birth, and the little village was in gala dress. Arches had been erected, and such other decorations were provided as the limited resources of the place could supply. A number of people had made the fifty-mile journey from Casiguran to congratulate me on the occasion, and we celebrated the day with horse races, dancing, serenades, and amateur theatricals. The near approach of our reinforcements furnished an added incentive to the festivity of the day.
The next morning, March 23d, at six o'clock, I ordered Colonel Villa to send eleven soldiers of my personal guard to Dinundungan to take charge of the American prisoners in place of the men detailed by Colonel Tal Placido, who were worn out by their hard march, so that they might have a chance to rest and recuperate. Colonel Villa, also superintended the evacuation of one of the barracks occupied by my troops, so that it might be made ready for the reinforcements which were about to arrive. At the same time Colonel Villa sent a letter to the Military Chief of Isabela de Luzon, informing him that within a week a company of reinforcements for his province would be sent to him, and directing him to get together at his camp at Tierra Virgen as large a quantity of rice as possible.
It was intention to allow Hilario Tal Placido and his men to rest in the camp in Palanan for a week, and then to send them to Isabela. The men were to be attached to the guerrilla forces already operating in the province, and Colonel Tal Placido was to assume the military chieftainship of the province, relieving the officer then in command, who was to go to the province of Nueva Viscaya.
The morning of March 23d was passed in making preparations for the formation of a Red Cross league among the ladies who had come up from Casiguran for my birthday. With this object Dr. Barcelona had sent them an invitation to come to my house at three o'clock in the afternoon.
About two o'clock in the afternoon I saw Tal Placido's men crossing the Palanan River in small boats, and at once directed Colonel Villa to send Captain Tomas Magsarilo to salute the newcomers and welcome them in my name. Colonel Villa also arranged that the soldiers of my personal guard who were not on duty should fire the proper military salutes.
It was not long before the new troops, some eighty-five in number, entered the village of Palanan and halted in the plaza in front of my house, where about twenty soldiers of my guard were drawn up waiting to receive them. It was about three o'clock. The newcomers were dressed in the regular uniform of the Filipino army, and were armed with Mausers, Remingtons, and one or two Krags. The officers, Colonel Tal Placido and Captain Segovia the latter a Peninsular Spaniard then came into my house. After the usual salutations I asked them what sort of a journey they had had. To this Segovia replied that it had been exceedingly hard, and that they had not twenty-four hours' rest since the 24th of February, the date of their departure from Nueva Ecija. Segovia then told me that he had been at one time the adjutant of the Spanish General Llanera, and had seen me then, but I have no recollection of having seen him before this occasion.
After talking with Tal Placido and Segovia for fifteen or twenty minute, I gave orders that the newly arrived men be allowed to fall out and go to rest in the quarters which had been prepared for them. Captain Segovia immediately left the house and returned to the place where his men were drawn up waiting for him. As he came up to them Segovia shouted, in a loud voice, an order which we did not hear distinctly and did not understand. Instantly his men began to shoot at the soldiers of my guard, taking them completely by surprise. When the firing began, not suspecting any plan against myself, I though it was a salute with blank cartridges, and having this in mind, I ran to the window and cried out several times, "Cease firing." But seeing that the firing continued, and that the bullets from the rifles of the attacking party were directed against me as well as against the soldiers of my guard, I for the first time realized that the newcomers were enemies. I hurriedly left the window and ran into another room in the hope of finding some means of escape, but saw at once that the house was already surrounded. Then I seized a revolver, intending to defend myself, but Dr. Barcelona threw both arms around me, crying out, "Don't sacrifice yourself. The country needs your life." Thus I was prevented from carrying out my intention. Colonel Villa ran from the house in an attempt to break through the lines of the enemy and rally our men, but he was shot three times and finally taken prisoner.
When the firing commenced, Tal Placido threw himself down on the floor to avoid the bullets, but now he got up and told us that we were the prisoners of the Americans, who, he said, were on the other side of the river with four hundred American soldiers, and would soon be here. Just at this time several of Tal Placido's soldiers came into the house shouting, "Hurrah for the Macabebes!" and surrounded Barcelona and myself. A little later five Americans, all armed with carbines, came into the room where we were. They came up to us, and one of them asked, "Which one of you is Aguinaldo?" As soon as I had been identified by the Americans I was placed, with Dr. Barcelona and Colonel Villa, in one of the rooms of the house, and guards were posted at all the windows and doors, under command of one of the Americans. The other four Americans then began to search the house for whatever papers and documents might be there.
We were then informed that our captors were General Funston, Captains Newton and Hazzard, and Lieutenants Hazzard and Mitchell. While the search for documents was going on, Dr. Barcelona took advantage of the opportunity to dress the wounds of Colonel Villa and the others who had been hit. Fortunately, the wounds of the colonel were not serious.
It is difficult to give a detailed account of what occurred outside the house during the confusion which arose after the beginning of the attack. The soldiers of my guard were completely surprised, and did not even have their rifles loaded. One was killed and two others were wounded, the rest making their escape; but whether there were any wounded among those who got away or not I do not know. When the firing began, all the inhabitants of the village fled precipitately in the endeavor to escape; and when the attack was over, there was not a living soul in the place except General Funston's men and ourselves, the prisoners of war. A few scattered shots were fired by my men in their retreat, but to no effect. They had been taken so entirely by surprise that they had no chance to resist.
The next morning, March 24th, I had a conference with General Funston, in which I was told by him that on the next day there would arrive in the bay of Palanan a warship which would take us to Manila. In the course of the day he informed me of the plan which had resulted in our capture a fate which I had believed would never befall me. It appears that my messenger, Private Segismundo, fell into the hands of General Funston, the letters which he carried suggested to the general the plan which was subsequently carried out so brilliantly. The letter which I had received on the 20th and which I supposed had come from General Lakuna, was a forgery executed with the greatest cleverness. It was complete in all details, even bearing the seal of Lakuna, and there never occurred to me the least suspicion of its authenticity. I had not the slightest doubt from that time up to the instant of the commencement of the attack which ended in my capture. It was bold plan, executed with skill and cleverness in the face of difficulties which, to most men, would have seemed insurmountable.
On the morning of the 25th of March, General Funston gave orders to begin the march to the seashore, and we three prisoners, with one of my men, who had been wounded, left the little town which had been our place of refuge for so long a time. We reached the beach about noon, after a march of some six miles, and without loss of time the Americans made two signal fires and hoisted a white flag. A little later I made out, with aid of my binoculars, a steamer on the horizon. Having seen, no doubt, the smoke of the signal fires, the ship steamed directly for the place where we were waiting. Within two hours the warship was anchored near the beach, and General Funston communicated, by means of heliograph, to the officers on board the brilliant result of his expedition. By five o'clock in the afternoon we were all on board the Vicksburg, the anchor was hoisted, and we made for the open sea, bound for Manila.
At all times since our capture, as well in Palanan as on board the Vicksburg, we have been treated with the highest consideration by our captors, as well as by all the other American officers with whom we have come in contact.
At two o'clock on the morning of March 28th the Vicksburg anchored in the bay of Manila. At six o'clock that same morning General Funston and myself, accompanied by some officers, boarded one of the launches of the gunboat and left the Vicksburg. We went up the Pasig River to the residence of the Governor-General in Malacanan, where we disembarked. A little later I was presented to General MacArthur as a prisoner of war.
Such was my return to Manila after an absence of more than four years.