In the century or so of Philippine-US relations—marked today (July 4) as Filipino-American Friendship Day—Americans are invariably portrayed as liberators and/or imperialistic colonizers, democratic allies and benevolent teachers, missionaries and investors, or tourists and bride-seekers. Francis D. Millet came with the US colonizers in 1898 as a journalist embedded in the American army and wrote about what he saw in the strange country seemingly with the air of white-man superiority typical of the era. Fourteen years later, he would be among the passengers riding first-class who drowned in the sinking of the RMS Titanic that killed 1,500 people. A visual artist-turned-journalist, Millet was in the Philippines from June to September 1898 as a war correspondent for Harper’s Weekly and LondonTimes. He wrote of his experiences in his little-known work, “The Expedition to the Philippines,” published in 1899 and recently digitized by the US Library of Congress. Millet’s 275-page chronicle provides glimpses of the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, the Philippine Revolution under Emilio Aguinaldo, the fledgling First Republic and the uncertainties brought about by the growing American military presence in Manila.
Beginning of the end
The arrivals included Gen. Wesley Merritt, who was to become the first US military governor of the Philippines. They were welcomed with a cannon salute by the Olympia, flagship of Adm. George Dewey, whose fleet had defeated the Spaniards but was unable to complete the capture of Manila due to the lack of troops. “[T]he dull echo of the great guns sounded along the great curve of the low shore miles to the north where the domes and towers and palaces of Manila gleamed white in the sunlight, and carried to the Spanish an emphatic message that this was the beginning of the end,” Millet wrote. Tension was high in the Spanish and American camps as they were expecting the arrival of a Spanish fleet from Spain to relieve the American siege and drive away Dewey. The fleet, then at Suez Canal, was later ordered to return home.
Filipinos left out
By then, the American and Filipino troops closing in on Manila had divided up the surrounding towns into “zones of occupations.” Millet wrote that the American military leaders, who considered Aguinaldo neither an ally nor an enemy, planned to edge out the Filipinos from their zones. Millet said the arrival of more American troops had worried Aguinaldo and other Filipinos, who feared that minor incidents might result in hostilities between the two camps.
Battle of Manila
The Filipinos’ fears were not unfounded—they were left out of the final attack on Manila. Millet accompanied the US troops as they advanced to Manila, digging trenches and setting up defenses around the walled city. The switching of night lights at the Luneta and the presence on the US command ships of diplomat-emissaries from the Spanish camps were signals to Millet that “something decisive” wasabout to happen. This was the Battle of Manila on August13, when the walled city, after a token resistance, surrendered to the Americans. Millet arrived just in time to witness Spanish Governor-General Fermin Jaudenes and Merritt sign the preliminary capitulation terms at the Ayuntamiento, or City Hall.
The hostilities over, the tired Millet, after joining the American military’s victory supper, crossed over to Binondo and spent the night at the Hotel Oriente. Later, as the US occupation of Intramuros and nearby villages began, Millet even found himself invited to lodge in Malacañang. From the Palace grounds, he observed Filipinos living along the Pasig River and using it as a trading thoroughfare.
“Everywhere along the river on the banks and on all the native craft, the men and women are always bathing and washing their clothes.The bath is usually taken in the Malay fashion by pouring water from a cup or dipper over the head and body, and it is no uncommon sight to see a laborer deliberately walk into the water, take off his garments one by one, wash them, put them on and walk away, aperambulating clothes-drier,” he wrote.
As for the women, Millet said they were “dressed in the thinnest cotton jacket and sarong, waded into the water up to their waists andbeat the soiled garment with stones and clubs much the same as peasants of European countries do.” Millet commended Filipinos, whether in the city or in the provinces, for being clean in their bodies, clothes and homes, adding that apart from mosquitoes, he was never pestered by any other insects, whether at Camp Dewey or Malacañang. He particularly praised the Filipinos for being habitually temperate, for being understanding of foreigners unfamiliar with local customs and for being music lovers. In nearly every hut, a guitar ora similar instrument would be found, he said.
Typhoon warning center
In Ermita, Millet visited schools and the Manila Observatory. Its director, Fr. Federico Faura, showed him seismic equipment, a large telescope imported from the US, and scientific drawings and engravings by Filipinos. Millet learned that the observatory had put up 14 stations throughout the Philippines to send daily or hourly weather reports by telegraph. The observatory also acted as an early warning center for neighboring countries. “From (the) reports, the approach and probably force and direction of the dreaded typhoons are immediately anticipated and a warning telegram is at once sent to Hong Kong and thence transmitted to all important shipping ports in China and the Yellow Sea,” Millet said.
In August, as negotiations began in Paris on a treaty ending the war, Aguinaldo moved his capital from Bacoor to Malolos, where he announced the convening of a Congress on September 15 to write a constitution. On that day, Millet found himself on the Manila-Dagupan railway traveling to Bulacan to interview the President. He had befriended the railway manager, Horace Higgins, and they journeyedto the end of the rail in Pangasinan. Higgins wanted to complain to Aguinaldo about the destruction of rail tracks, the raids on the stations and the strikes by rail workers. At Aguinaldo’s headquarters in Malolos, they were ushered into a waiting room and given Manila cigars.
Gentleman in black
“[W]hile we were lighting up, a small individual, in full evening black suit and flowing black tie, presented himself before us,” Millet said. “Never having seen the gentleman before in civilian’s dress, I did not for a moment recognize him, but was struck at once by the Chinese cast of his head and features. An instant later I saw, of course, it was Aguinaldo, and we all three sat down, after a handshake,and began our chat.” Millet and Higgins tried to speak to Aguinaldo about public interest matters but to every leading question, the President would reply, “My people will decide,” or “I shall be obliged to refer this to my people in whose hands I am.” Millet was generally unimpressed with Aguinaldo and thought he was a mere figurehead. However, he noted that Aguinaldo’s manner were “irreproachable” and he was cunning and astute. After promising Higgins that he would deal with the strikers, Aguinaldo invited them to the opening of the Congress.
At Barasoain Church, Millet saw that the delegates were wearing black coats, in contrast with current photos showing them in white. He observed the delegates were using their bowler hats to fan themselves vigorously due to the heat. Millet said he and a Japanese were the only foreign journalists at the Congress’ inaugural. When Millet left Manila on September 22 for Hong Kong, the delegates were still drafting the Constitution and more US troops were arriving in the occupied city.
Millet admitted his narrative only gave one side of the picture. “Most of our men had never any dealings with semibarbaric people andthey were absolutely unable to comprehend their nature or to appreciate the motives of the Filipinos, who were, from the American point of view, almost as far removed from the condition of civilized man as are the anthropoid apes,” he said. Personally, Millet said, he never had any difficulties with Filipinos, except those which naturally resulted from the state of tension that existed. “The officers and the soldiers with whom I came in contact under ordinary circumstances were always courteous and friendly and the natives not bearing arms were as gentle and mild-mannered as any other people of Malay stock,” he said.
Virtues and faults
Millet said Filipinos “have many grave faults, but they have remarkable virtues as well.” “Since their faults are different from those to which we are accustomed, they take a more prominent place in our estimation of their character and the temperament of this interesting race,” he said. “They are said to be irregular in their habits of work and are shiftless and improvident. That is, of course, partly theresult of the climate and of long oppression, but it is really temperamental at the bottom. They are also commended for loyalty to those for whom they conceive an affection, for remarkable domestic virtues and for generous instincts of hospitality. “They are extremely sensitive and nervous and have a strong sense of justice which, if once outraged, breeds in their minds a spirit ofvindictiveness, which almost amounts to a madness.” In April 1912, Millet, 65, was returning from London when he, along with his bosom friend, Maj. Archibald Butt, a military aide to President Howard Taft, went down with the Titanic. Millet’s remains—among the 300 bodies recovered—were buried in his native Massachusetts. A memorial fountain at President’s Park in Washington, dedicated in 1913, commemorates the two friends.