Battle of Imus

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The Battle of Imus, on September 5, 1896, was among the series of battles which marked the start of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Emilio Aguinaldo, mayor of Kawit, Cavite, won against the forces of General Ernesto Aguirre. After this victory, he was then called General Miong--the hero of the Caviteños.


Scenario

The first battle of the revolution in Cavite was fought in Imus on the night of 31 August 1896, one day after Bonifacio’s ill-fated attack on the gun powder magazine of San Jose del Monte. John Foreman wrote about the town of Imus and its importance to the rebels:


The village of Imus was their great strategic point. The village itself, situated in the center of a large well watered plain, surrounded by planted land was nothing – a mere collection of wooded and bamboo dwellings. The distance from Manila, in straight line, would be about 14 miles, with good roads leading to the bay-shore towns. The people were very poor, being tenants or dependents of the friars, hence the only building of importance was the estate house of the religious corporation. This estate house was really a fortress in the estimation of the natives. The dwelling house was situated in the middle of a compound surrounded by massive high walls and to this place some seventeen friars fled in alarm. For the rebels therefore, Imus had a double value – the fortress and the capture of the friars.

Emilio Aguinaldo, in his memoirs, related that it was Baldomero Aguinaldo, President of the Magdalo Council, who led the first attack on Imus. At the head of the handful of men armed only with spears and bolos, Baldomero Aguinaldo rallied forth to Imus to test the reflexes of the defenders of the town. Emilio Aguinaldo and his men covered the rear in Binakayan against a possible attack coming from the marines stationed in Polverin in Kulaute. A contingent of civil guards on patrol, however, intercepted Baldomero Aguinaldo and his men before they could make their way into the plaza Municipal. A running battle ensued and the rebels were forced to withdraw. The Spaniards suffered two casualties. The rebels however had to leave a wounded officer, Lt. Marcelino Cajulis, behind.


On the morning of September 1, a Tuesday, Jose Tagle, Captain Municipal of Imus, with a force of around 100 men, went to Kawit to seek the help of Aguinaldo. The Spaniards according to Tagle had entrenched themselves in the church and behind the massive walls of the estate house and it would need all the forces the rebels could muster to dislodge them from their sanctuary. Emilio Aguinaldo hastily assembled a force of about six hundred men armed only with “nine old rifles, three Remingtons taken from the civil guards, a gun used for shooting birds borrowed from the Municipal Captain of San Francisco de Malabon” and an assortment of bolos and spears. Aguinaldo knew what he and his men were up against. He was apprehensive about how his men, totally inexperienced in soldiery, but now transformed into a motley army, would react at the first sound of gunfire. Aguinaldo decided to play a deceptive psychological card. At the risk of advertising his attack, he invited a band to lead his column. As the column begun to march, the band burst into the martial Battala de Jolo. Many could have doubted the wisdom of it all, its military sense. Aguinaldo knew what he was doing. His men were raw, and like him, a prey to fear that unusually stalks an army before an attack. Aguinaldo himself confessed to a fear, which he knew he and his men were grappling heroically to hide behind the veneer of courage.

The band as Aguinaldo gambled, played a pivotal role. It whipped martial enthusiasm among the men and dissipated whatever fears and misgivings had lurked in their hearts at the start of the march. The band also attracted other men to join the group. By the time the column had reached Imus, it had swelled to around two thousand men.


The first to be attacked was the church and convent where Aguinaldo was told the friars and civil guards had barricaded themselves. Aguinaldo divided his men into three groups all to converge like massive fists upon the target. The first group under Baldomero Aguinaldo was to attack from the north; the second group under Tagle was to attack from the south, and the third group led by Aguinaldo himself, was to deliver the frontal blow.


Aguinaldo and Tagle at the head of their columns crawled toward their objective. When Aguinaldo had reached a house adjoining the church, he ordered his bugler to sound the advance and shouting “sisid” led his men to attack. The rebels broke down the huge door of the church and discovered to their disappointment that they had been cheated by their quarry. The friars and a retinue of civil guards had earlier sneaked out of the church to seek safety in the formidable estate house. To face the rebels, they had left a lone Filipino priest – Fr. Pedro Buenaventura.


Aguinaldo and his men braced themselves for the assault on the estate house whose strong massive walls provided the friars and civil guard’s protection against rebel attack. The Spaniards, led by Fray Eduarte were waiting for the rebel assault intending to wait out the reinforcements from Manila. Some rebels fired by their number, tried to rush the estate house. But an intense volley of gunfire sent them back crippled by a number of casualties. Aguinaldo saw the folly and futility of a direct attack. He decided on another tack. Accompanied by Guillermo Samoy, he crept towards the gate of the estate house intent on prying it open or breaking it down. The gate, however, was securely bolted from the inside that the efforts of two proved puny and worthless. Samoy died helping Aguinaldo make the break through.


Aguinaldo regrouped his men and changed tactics. He would scour the walls of the estate house for weak points where he could bore a hole and breach it. He found the estates house’s Achilles heels at the southeast corner where the walls were thinner and therefore more vulnerable. Aguinaldo and some of his men tore a hole through the thin walls, crept in and ran straight to the palay warehouses adjoining the estate house where the friars and the civil guards had taken sanctuary and poured petroleum on it. Then Rafael Sabater of Imus applied the torch. “The unfortunate refugees, unable to stand the thick smoke and raging fire dashed out of the warehouse and so to captivity.” However, were not disposed to show Christian charity to some of their prisoners. John Foreman, who was witness to many battles of the revolution, wrote of the battle of Imus and its attendant cruelty:


...After a siege, which lasted long enough for General Blanco to have his troops against them, the rebels took the Imus Estate House on the first of September and erected barricades there. Thirteen of the priests fell into their hands. They cut trenches and threw up earthworks in the several main roads to the province…Marauding parties were sent out everywhere to steal the crops and livestock’s which were conveyed in large quantities in Imus. Some of the captured priests were treated barbarously. One was cut up piecemeal; another was saturated with petroleum and set on fire; and a third was bathe in oil and fried on a bamboo spit run through the length of his body.


More in irony than in sarcasm, Foreman concluded his account on the battle of Imus with the observation that the rebels, after an unspeakable outrage on their helpless prisoners, repaired to the church to celebrate a requiem mass.


Earlier, a Spanish relief column commanded by Brig. General Ernesto de Aguirre had been dispatched from Manila to succor the beleaguered defenders of Imus. Supported only by a hundred troops and by a cavalry, Aguirre gave the impression that he had been sent out to suppress a minor disturbance.


Informed of this, Aguinaldo and five hundred of his men rushed to Zapote to staunch the entry of reinforcements into Cavite. However, he and his rebels were in for a shock of their lives. In a battle fought heroically in both sides, the rebels suffered serious setbacks and were forced to flee in disarray. It was this setback that gave handle to the rumors that Aguinaldo was killed. Demoralization eroded the confidence of the rebels. However, Aguinaldo had managed to escape capture by General Aguirre by feigning death in the battlefield. Together with one of his men, Eugenio Orcullo, Aguinaldo broke through the Spanish cordon and limped back to Imus. His return revived the flagging spirit of his men and energized their resolve to fight until the end.


“General Aguirre could have ended the rebellion right then and there had he marched to Imus and taken the town,” wrote Archutegi and Bernard. “But Aguirre felt the inadequacy of his troops and he hastened back to Manila to get reinforcements. The he marched southward towards Imus.”

But he had squandered a day that was to prove enormously significant to Aguinaldo and to Imus. When General Aguirre returned with an additional five hundred troops the rebels in Imus were ready for him. Imus was to be the booty and the trap. It was to be the revolution's epiphany.

What had happened that fateful day?

Aguinaldo returned to Imus after the disaster in Zapote and Bakood. To the delight and joy of his men at seeing him alive, he brought the sobering news that the Spaniards had scored an important victory and would march to Imus to complete their rout of the rebels. He told them that probably Aguirre and his were regrouping in Bakood for the final assault.

With frenzied zeal bordering nearly on desperation, Aguinaldo and his men prepared the defense of Imus. “Trenches were hurriedly built along Imus River where the enemy was expected to pass and one of the estate bridges was blown up.” Aguinaldo knew that his badly undermanned army was no match against the adequately armed and heavily reinforced army of Aguirre. So he placed the fate of Imus – and thereby the revolution itself – on one element: surprise. Aguirre and his men would lend themselves to their own undoing by their supremely confident throwing of all cautions to the wind. Had they not destroyed the rebel army?

With additional arms captured from the town of Imus, the rebels touted the following weapons in their armory: 30 Remingtons, 2 rifles, a canon de montanas and thousands of ammunition. They were pitiful but Aguinaldo knew that the rebels had the advantage. They commanded the terrain. They would dictate the tempo of the fight. Against Spanish over-confidence they would match their own determined and disciplined resolve to fight a battle they knew they should not lose.

Earlier that day Aguinaldo had given specific instructions to Jose Tagle and his men:

1. Support the bridge that which is nearer the hacienda must be demolished. 2. Pillboxes must be built at hidden strategic places on the other side of the bank opposite the road that is expected to be taken by the enemy. 3. All men armed with guns and bolos should hide. No one should fire a shot, even if the enemy is already in sight. No firing must be done until the canon shot from where I would be at the foot of the broken bridge is heard. 4. The signal to be followed by everybody is this” until the vanguard of the enemy has reached the bridge or until the roar of the mounted canon is heard no one should show himself or fire his gun.

If the rebels could catch the Spaniards by surprise they would win a decisive victory.

On September 3, the Spanish column advanced upon Imus under cover of heavy artillery gunfire. If there were remnants of rebel forces hiding in the town the carpet of artillery fire would smoke them out of their hiding places and force them to flee. The die was cast. The rebels held their breath and their fire. Their lives – and the life of their town – hung upon their resolve to outsmart their foes and to inveigle them willy-nilly to walk into their trap.

The Spaniards suffused by confidence borne of their victory at Bakood and Zapote marched on to the staccato burst of canon fire and shouts of “Viva Espana.” It was this confidence that dulled the military sense that completely disarmed the Spaniards. The approach to the hacienda bridge as unguarded, the bridge itself was solitary span with nary a soul to guard it and what more there was no answering fire from the rebels. But the Spaniards could be forgiven for their imprudence. Had the rebels not been beaten soundly at Bakood? Did not the rebels flee in wanton disarray after that defeat? The rebels might have managed to regroup but their morale – or whatever was left of it – could it withstand the shock of the approaching Spanish army more powerful than the force that had inflicted the rebels their defeat in Bakood and Zapote announcing its relentless advance through the angry barks of canon fire?

When the Spanish army had reached the blasted end of one of the estate house bridges, the mountain canon fired its angry defiance and signaled that the battle was on. A cacophony of fire burst from the bushes catching the Spaniards by surprise. Pandemonium broke loose. Panic gripped their ranks and Spanish soldiers fired back wildly against their unseen foes.

At this juncture Aguinaldo realized his mistake. He did not provide for his men to close down the rear of the bridge to seal the only escape hatch the Spaniards could take to save themselves. He took some of his men to Presa Talon where the current was very strong. The first attempt at crossing failed because some men were swept by the strong current. “Locking their hands chain-wise, the rebels laboriously inched their way until they reached that part of the river where the bamboo clumps were thick and the foliage provided protection.” Aguinaldo had closed the trap. When rebel firing started at the rear the Spaniards knew that they were caught in a bind. They fought desperately to break out and fled pell-mell to Bakood. General Aguirre fell from his horse and in his haste to escape left behind his “Sable de Mando” crafted in Toledo in 1869. Aguinaldo managed to retrieve the sword and used it for the duration of the revolution.

According to Aguinaldo his men gathered two cartloads of dead “na durog-durog at lustay lustay na katawan.” Although he did not mention it we can infer that this were dead Spaniards. He was silent about rebel casualties. The Magdalo picked up 30 Remingtons plus ammunition.

After the battle of Imus and because Kawit was under bombardment from Cavite port and the Spanish gunboats at Manila, Aguinaldo transferred his government to Imus. “ The first revolutionary government has Baldomero Aguinaldo for President and Candido Tria Tirona for War Secretary and portfolios for finance, natural resources, agriculture and justice. Aguinaldo had upped his title to Jefe de Abanderado (Flag Lt. General). A munitions factory was set up in Imus.”

The perceptive student of history can not fail to reach the following conclusions resulting from the battle of Imus on 3 September 1896.

First, it was the first serious defeat of the Spanish army in the field against rebel troops.

Second, in about a week’s time after the battle practically all town of Cavite, with the exception of San Roque, Caridad, Carmona and the Naval garrisons at Binakayan joined forces with the rebels.

Quijano de Manila (Nick Joaquin) speaks of Aguinaldo’s victory in Imus as the “spark which started the revolt in Bulacan.” According to him 300 Bulakan Katipuneros gathered to attack the garrison of San Nicholas town. But the news of Bonifacio’s fiasco disheartened them. They disbanded and returned to their homes “with disillusionment in their heart.” Bulakan made no further effort to rise in arms until they heard the news of Aguinaldo in Cavite.

Aguinaldo’s victory in the second battle of Imus saved the revolution from collapse. This was a conclusion, which drew historian Aguinaldo’s approving nod when this writer broached it to him year’s back. The fiasco of Andres Bonifacio threw a pall gloom in the revolution. The rebel victory at the second battle of Imus rekindled the fluttering spark of resistance. It energized the rebels into greater resolve.

Third, it made Aguinaldo the undisputed leader of the revolution. By his own admission, he entered the town a flag lieutenant. He left it a General.


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