By Mel Jovellanos
Soon after the assassination of General Antonio Luna at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija on June 5, 1899, military advances of the American in Luzon become relentless and determined. It was a awesome juggernaut none of the remaining Filipinos generals could stop. General Aguinaldo had to move from one place to another in rapid succession, establishing temporary “capitals” in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, than Bayambang, Pangasinan before finally escaping to the jungles and heights of Northern Luzon until his surrenders at Palanan, Isabela 16 months late.
General Aguninaldo had a “close call” and would have been captured in the town of Pozorrubio, Pangasinan on the 15th of November 1899. The stubborn defense put up by the Filipino forces in Barangay Dilan and Barangay Malasin in Pozorrubio greatly delayed the American blitz. This, plus the daring and wiles of a Filipino cavalry guide, upset the Yankees timetable. But that is getting ahead of the story.
Aguinaldo left Bayambang for Calasiao by train on the 12th of November, 1899. He was accompanied by his General Staff headed by Gen. Venancio Concepcion, several of his cabinet members, his wife and son and other family members of his staff, plus the still intact Kuwait battalion, elements of the Bulacan Brigade directly under the command of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar (many of them would die at Tirad Pass two weeks later). Local forces in Pangasinan under General Manalang, Colonel Quesada, Col. Daniel Maramba and others protected the route and flanks of the retreating Aguinaldo.
General Arthur McArthur’s forces in the meanwhile had captured Malolos and were steadily advancing towards Pangasinan after clearing Pampanga and Tarlac. General Lawton’s division was already in the San Jacinto area on the 14th November, spearheaded by the Calvary Brigade under brig. Gen. Samuel B.M. Young. Around 4:00 P.M.. the vanguard of Young’s column, under Major Samuel M. Swigert, were moving from Binalonan to Pozorrubio. It was said some of Swigerts crack cavalrymen were veterans of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Rough Riders”.
To stop Aguinaldo from escaping via the sea route, Maj. Gen. Wheaton’s forces landed at San Fabian on the 7th of November, 1899. They conducted a terrific navel bombardments the intensity of which has only equaled by the Japanese forces that landed in the same place on December 23, 1941 and the landing of another American force under General Arthur MaArthur in January 1945.
Thus with General Wheaton’s forces spearheaded by Generals Young and the famed General Lawton advancing towards Pozorrubio, Aguinaldo, who also arrived in Pozorrubio on the night of the 14th, was caught in a dragnet that was almost impossible to break.
Earlier however, on the 11 the November the Filipino forces, led by the Tinio Brigade, once described by General Luna as the most disciplined military contingent in the Philippine Revolutionary Army, stalled the American advance in the Battle of San Jacinto-Pozorrubio. In this battle the Tinio forces were aided by the revolutionary forces from Dagupan and Mangaldan under Col. Quesada, Colonel Daniel Maramba’s units from Sta. Barbara, some elements from Aguinaldo’s rearguard under Colonel Montenegro and dozens of volunteers from the municipalities of Mapandan, San Fabian, San Jacintio, Manaoag, Pozorrubio, Binalonan, Tayug, Villasis, Urdaneta, San Manuel and Alave (now Sison). In this battle the Americans suffered a lot of casualties including a battalion commander, Major John H. Logan.
Colonel Luther Hare’s regiment, composed mostly Texans was one of the toughest regiments in the United States Army at that time. Still, the Tinio-led forces held them at bay for many hours in that brilliant delaying action. But when the American started using their deadly Gatling gun did the Filipinos begin their retreat.
General Wheaton himself made comments about “the unusual courage and spirited resistance put up by the Filipino troops in San Jacinto and Pozorrubio.
Tinio’s Chief of Staff, Maj. Vicente Salazar was promoted on the spot to colonel for fighting so gallantly. The 3rd (Abra) Battalion of the Tinio Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties (led by Maj. Pablo Bustamante). The Americans later counted 134 dead Filipino troopers after the battle. But many more were wounded, carried by the retreating Filipinos.
A bronze and steel market put up by the Americans to commemorate Maj. John H. Logan’s death still stands today in Bgy. Macayug in the town of San Jacinto.
The Americans firepower was not match for the Philippines fighter. They withdrew and set up trenches and another defense line in Barangay Dilan and Barangay Malasin in Pozorrubio. The ferocious stand put up by Aguinadlo’s rearguards again delayed the Americans, enabling him to escape the next day, November 16, to La Union, closely guarded by the Cavite and Bulacan contingents and some more elements of the battle-tested Tinio Brigade.
While Aguinaldo and his forces were resting in Pozorrubio on the 15th, Wheaton’s troops were bogged down by the fierce fighting in Barangays Dilan and Malasin. General Young however, who was already in nearby Binalonan town could have assaulted Aguinaldo in Pozorrubio had not Young’s Filipino guide deliberately misdirected the American cavalry. The guide, whose name until now remains unknown, brought the tall Americanos and their giant horses to Manaog via what is now the town of Laoac instead of going straight to Pozorrubio.
Quoted an American newspaper correspondent who covered the event.
“General Wheaton sent General Lawton’s division, spearheaded by Brig. Gen. B.M. Young to intercept or capture Aguinaldo in Pozorrubio. Frantically they pressed forward from Binalonan to Pozorrubio, the next town led by a native guide. Were they on time?”.
“The only reason that the guide who led us to Manaoag instead of Pozorrubio was not shot was because he could no longer be found.”.
The failure of the Americans to capture Aguinaldo in Pozorrubio prolonged the fill-American War by almost two years.
Thanks to the gallantly and reality of the Tinio Brigade, the local revolutionary forces and Aguinaldo’s rearguards. And the courage of an unknown Filipino cavalry guide.