Miguel – from the Blog of a Filipino Historian

Original Post by Kristoffer Pasion

Miguel Malvar (1865-1911), was one of the less popular Filipino heroes who lived in the early years of the 20th century. It was at the end of the Philippine-American War, as Emilio Aguinaldo was captured and imprisoned in Malacanang Palace in 1901 (wait, you call that a prison?), that he sent out an order calling every Filipino revolutionary to lay down their arms and surrender to the Americans. The rewards were tempting: full amnesty and a good quiet life in exchange for surrender. As many gave up and joined the Americans, there was one Filipino who kept fighting on and refused to give in. His name was Miguel Malvar.

He assumed control of the Philippine Army who had low morale due to the series of defeats they had suffered. Add to that the lack of resources since the American soldiers, led by James Franklin Bell, destroyed all possible source of food, water, and shelter. Finally in 1902, thinking what’s best for his men, Malvar surrendered, without condition, to the amazement of the Americans (The news even made it to the Washington Post). The Americans kept their word and he was pardoned. He lived a simple life thereafter. He was offered the position of governor of his home province, Batangas, but he politely declined. He died due to liver complications.

As for surrendering to the U.S., was he a lesser hero because he ‘gave up’? His surrender had cast a shadow over his heroismr, and even Mabini’s. While some are quick to judge, Mabini wrote the reason of surrender clearly. I would picture Mabini in tears while writing this:

“We fought in the conviction that our dignity and sense of duty required the sacrifice of defending our freedoms as long as we could, since without them social equality between the dominant class and the native population would be impossible in practice and perfect justice among us could not be achieved. Yet we knew it would not be too long before our scant resources were exhausted, and our defeat inevitable. The struggle thus became unjustified and indefensible from the moment the vast majority of the population chose submission to the conqueror, and many of the revolutionists themselves joined his ranks, since, unable to enjoy their natural freedoms–being prevented from doing so by the American forces–and lacking means to remove this obstacle, they deemed it prudent to yield and put their hopes on the promises made in the name of the people of the United States.”

–Apolinario Mabini, The Philippine Revolution

Perhaps, we can call Malvar a hero because he pushed the possibility of independence through guerrilla warfare to its greatest extent until he found the futility of fighting the general will of the people. And it clearly showed the Americans that we mean business when we say la independencia.

At last, proper recognition for a revolutionary war hero

by Norman Santos Sison✝ RIP ,VERA Files


If there is anything that the town of Santo Tomas is best known for, it would be bulalo, a light colored stew of beef shanks and — the star attraction — bone marrow. Cholesterol heaven.

With Mount Makiling looming kilometers away, the largely farming town of 125,000 is a popular stopover for travellers. Restaurants serving bulalo line up the highway connecting the town with Manila to the north and the rest of Batangas Province to the south. It even boasts a Starbucks, notwithstanding Batangas’ famed barako coffee.

A road sign at a highway junction outside Santo Tomas is all that gives travellers an idea that the town is also home to a revolutionary war hero.

Maj. Gen. Miguel Malvar (1865-1911) once led a war against America and — if you want to stretch it — assumed the presidency of the Philippines during the conflict. However, unlike historical figures Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and several others, Malvar is inexplicably among the lesser known ranks in the Philippines’ pantheon of national heroes.

A sepia-colored photo shows Malvar, in his rayadillo uniform, with a steely gaze — a “veteran with a satanic beard”, described American journalist Stanley Karnow in his book “In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.”

Malvar fought in the 1896 revolution against Spanish colonial rule, commanding forces in Batangas. Following the revolution’s defeat, he was exiled to Hongkong along with revolutionary leader and first Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo and several others.

After returning from Hong Kong, he rose to the rank of major general in the Ejercito Republicano Filipino — the nascent Philippine Army — when the revolution resumed in 1898.

In February 1899, however, war broke out between the Philippines and the United States. America had refused to recognize Philippine independence and took over from Spain as the new colonial master. It was in the Philippine-American War, listed in US history books as the Philippine Insurrection, in which Malvar would earn his place in history.

Malvar took overall command of the revolutionary forces following Aguinaldo’s capture by US forces in March 1901 — and, in line with Aguinaldo’s succession decrees — the Philippine presidency as well. His appointment was approved by the ruling revolutionary committee.


“Perseverance, perseverance and always perseverance, without fear of sacrifice,” Malvar rallied his troops in a manifesto dated July 13, 1901. “Let us continue, as the will of the people has always been more powerful than the most powerful armies.”

Malvar reorganized the army’s command structure and divided the country into autonomous military zones. By that time, however, Malvar and Gen. Vicente Lukban on Samar Island were the only ones who had considerable forces capable of resisting the Americans.

Malvar waged a guerrilla war of attrition, a strategy predating the Vietnam War generations later.

“It is really all a smaller power has as an option when fighting a superpower,” says American history professor Brian Linn, who has studied the Philippine-American War. “They did not challenge their enemies on the battlefield. They worked hard at disciplining their forces to prevent abuses on Filipino civilians, they practiced hit-and-run raids, they controlled the information getting to the enemy, and they dragged out the war in hopes the Americans would get tired and quit.”

Unlike most of his fellow generals, Malvar adopted measures to build a mass base among the populace, realizing that he could not win without support from the people.

“Malvar had imposed his stamp on his native province’s resistance movement in a way few other leaders were able to do,” wrote Linn in his book “The Philippine War 1899-1902”, describing the general as one of the war’s “excellent regional guerrilla commanders”.

Malvar’s guerrilla tactics and the stiffness of the resistance in Batangas moved one Lt. Col. Leonard of the US Army to complain that “more weight is given to this brigand than he is entitled to.”

To force Malvar out, US forces under Maj. Gen. Franklin Bell, adopted scorched earth tactics beginning in January 1902. The populace was herded into controlled zones. Rice fields and towns were torched. Suspected revolutionaries and their supporters were tortured and, in many cases, executed.

Finally, on April 13, 1902, deserted by his men and with his wife dangerously ill, Malvar surrendered. “I found myself without a single gun or clerk,” he said, emphasizing that he didn’t want to add further hardship on the people.

An elated US President Theodore Roosevelt declared victory on July 4, 1902, to placate a US public that had grown weary of the war. Sporadic fighting persisted until 1907, however.

Malvar declined any position offered by the American colonial government and returned to his profession as a farmer. He died of liver failure in 1911 and was buried in Santo Tomas. Among those who attended his funeral was Bell.

Today, Malvar isn’t recognized as the Philippines’ second president. Two other revolutionary generals, Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar, are more famous than him. A Philippine Navy corvette, the BRP Miguel Malvar, dates back to World War II. The Philippine Army’s website doesn’t include Malvar in its roster of commanding generals.

But justice is finally coming.

Next year, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines will open a museum in Santo Tomas to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Malvar’s birthday on September 27. Outside is a statue designed by nationally acclaimed sculptor Napoleon Abueva. It depicts Malvar with saber and revolver drawn — defiant to the end.

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 bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.