Thursday, June 11, 2015


The Marianas, especially Guam, had been a penal colony for Filipinos for many years, but a terrible tragedy was to befall many of them in December of 1896.

In the last weeks of August in 1896, armed struggle between members of the Katipunan and the Spaniards broke out in the Philippines. The Katipunan was a movement seeking independence for the country. When the revolution broke out that month, many of the Katipunan fell into the hands of the Spaniards, while others continued the fighting in the field.

Spanish authorities in Manila decided to deport many of their Katipunero captives.  In December of 1896, the Saturnus transported 207 Filipino deportados (deportees) to Guam. Some among the exiled included deportados who had been on Guam in earlier years and knew the weaknesses of the roof and the small number of Chamorro guards at the prison. Some of these Katipunan talked among themselves and mentioned how easy it would be to escape. The conversation was overheard by some Chamorro guards, and it was reported, putting the guards on alert. One newspaper stated that a Chamorro sentinel obtained information that the Filipino insurgents intended to break out, kill the Spanish Governor and all who stood in their way, and take possession of the island.

It had been some time since Guam had to house such a large number of prisoners, so lodging and food became a problem.  Governor Jacobo Marina packed as many as he could into a crowded and dilapidated barracks, or cuartel, in the Plaza complex of government buildings in the heart of Hagåtña.

These unbearable conditions were obviously an added stimulus for rebellion by the prisoners.  On the night of December 19, a few of the prisoners decided to go through the roof and escape. They were caught, and the guards killed one and wounded five others.

But there was a second attempt the very next night, and this time it was by the entire mass of nearly 200 prisoners. Punishment for the prior night's escape was being prepared by the Spanish, punishment which could have included death, so perhaps the prisoners decided a successful escape was better than waiting for Spanish justice. One newspaper said that the rebels were thinking they could commandeer a Japanese schooner lying off of Guam if they could only escape and make it to the ship.

So, the prisoners made their move that night. Some went through the roof while others battered the door.

It seems the Chamorro guards panicked and opened fire, volley after volley. Alarmed by the noise, the people of the city woke up. The Chamorro men came to the cuartel with guns, machetes and clubs, offering their assistance to the Spanish Governor. Chamorros were placed at different areas surrounding the cuartel to prevent an escape of foot. When the shooting stopped, 80 prisoners had been killed and 45 others were wounded.* The site was described as gruesome.

The story made it to American newspapers, which described it as a "massacre."

In time, most of the survivors were shipped back to Manila.

This sad experience helped cement the negative stereotype many Chamorros had about Filipinos being dangerous rebels and troublemakers. The other side of the reality is that there is a lot of Filipino blood running in Chamorro veins, and many Chamorros were married to and continued to marry Filipinos, before and after this bloody incident.

One of the American papers that carried the story had an incredible version of it.

The Sun, a New York City paper, was considered a conservative, serious newspaper, nowhere near the yellow journalism of other papers that relied on exaggerated news to beef up circulation.

But it did try to appeal to the common reader and was the first newspaper in America to include a story about a suicide, something that would never have been included in newspapers before.

Its editor, Charles Dana, was a friend of José Martí, a Cuban independence advocate, and Dana was very much in support of Cuba's fight against Spain.

So The Sun's version of the killing of the Filipino exiles says that it was the Spaniards - not Chamorros - who killed the Filipinos. Who in America would want a war against Chamorros, if they had even heard of them? But many in America harbored strongly anti-Spanish sentiments.

According to The Sun, these "Spanish" guards began shooting at the cuartel housing the Filipinos merely for amusement. This was spread over three nights, not two, amounting in the end to 180 killed, not 80. The survivors saved themselves by using the corpses of the dead as a shield against the bullets. There is no mention in The Sun's story about the attempted escape of the prisoners.

The source of this information? Whaling ships arriving in the U.S. who had heard the story in Japan from ships that had been to Guam.

* Another source says there were 83 killed and 46 wounded.

But here is a note from the Spanish priest of Hagåtña, Father Francisco Resano, in a list of deceased for the year 1896. He says 98 "Tagalos" were shot and killed over two nights.

1 comment:

  1. Here's an account of the incident as recorded by Father Aniceto Ibanez in his memoir. The name of the article is "The Year 1896."

    An example of the "yellow journalism" that you mentioned... The Leslie's Weekly inflated the number of dead to 1,500. It also mentioned that Governor Marina's head was taken as "a study for criminologists."'s%20weekly%20guam%20our%20new%20naval%20station%20in%20the%20pacific&f=false