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Sunday, November 26, 2006

How the treasury of the Malolos Republic vanished

The Philippine Republic of 1898 had a functioning fiscal system that supported the raising and equipping of the army and navy and provided for expenditures of the various government functions like foreign affairs, interior, public instructions, communications and public works and agriculture, industry and commerce.

(Photo source: University of Michigan Digital Library)

According to Leandro H. Fernandez, the 1899 budget of the republic was Mexican dollars $6.3 million, of which $4.0 million were receipts from war tax levied on all persons eighteen years old and above, and the rest came from receipts from direct taxes and custom duties, $1.0 million, indirect taxes, $0.5, and special taxes, $0.8 million. A special fund was also raised from a national loan denominated in Series A and B bonds, which yielded $0.3 million. (Fernandez, 165)

It is not known how much money was left in the treasury at the time American troops overran the penultimate Filipino capital of Tarlac in November, 1899. What is known are accounts of Aguinaldo's effort to hide the money which eventually fell into the hands of American troops.

As the U.S. forces of Gen Arthur McArthur were closing in on Tarlac, President Emilio Aguinaldo commissioned a party of four Tagalog officers and twenty soldiers to hide the money and important documents of the government. Maximo B. Sevilla confirms the existence of the treasure and describes the manner it was hidden:
"As the Tagalog army suffered a succession of defeats in all fronts, the enemy of the people was triumphant; in all engagements the Tagalog soldier was no match, much like a leaf waylaid by a raging storm. Wanting in food and armaments the Filipinos were forced to retreat, precipitating the dispersion of the army of the people, like the native broom of coconut midribs freed of its shackle. The Filipino soldiers went on their own way and hid from the enemy. Only a few patriots were left fighting in the fields, defending against the swarm of the Americans. The old man Celso was sent for by the higher authorities which at that time had the seat of government in Tarlak. He was entrusted with the care of the treasury of the revolution, with instructions to hide it and prevent it from falling into the hands of the Americans. And the order was followed. The treasury was loaded in eighteen bull carts and accompanied by four officers and twenty soldiers, the group proceeded north. " (author's translation of Tagalog text found in Sevilla, 133-134)
The party traveled from Tarlak to Pangasinan over mountain passes and narrow paths and eventually the pursuing American troops came close to overtaking them. Coronel Selso, as the leader of the party is called, made the decision to unload the treasure into a ravine after releasing the soldiers and letting them go on their own.

Sevilla describes how the money was hidden:
"The group started hiding the treasure; there were by then only four of them and instead of digging to bury the treasure, the group decided to unload it from a gorge. As the treasure was being unloaded the sound of silver coins hitting the rocks below disturbed the silence of the night. Then they burned the paper money and the important documents which contained significant accounts of the history of the revolution, together with the boxes that were used as containers of the silver coins. It was almost daylight when they finished their task and each one went on his own way . But the flame that the group thought would seal their secret was the same signal that invited the curiosity of the Americans who sent a party to investigate." (author's translation of Tagalog text found in Sevilla, 163-164).
American troops soon discovered the treasure after one of the Tagalog soldiers surrendered and pointed to the hiding place. Swarm of American troopers and cavalrymen got their hands full. Two hundred thousand dollars were turned over to the officers of the Third Cavalry of the U.S. army, but many American soldiers succeeded in keeping the rest for themselves.

Here is an account by United States army officer, Major Edward S. O'Reilly:
"We had been there two days when Aguinaldo's famous buried treasure was discovered. I have seen this story printed in several magazines, but I have never heard the true story told. Here are the facts of the incident. A Tagalog bull-cart driver came into the camp of the Scouts one night and asked for something to eat. After he had been fed he was questioned, and admitted that he had worked for the insurrectos. Finally, after two hours of cross-examination, he told the following story.He had driven one of the carabao carts which had hauled the baggage of the insurgent government-officials. This had included three cart-loads of silver money, many loads of furniture, and numerous boxes of documents. The money had been buried in a canyon a mile above the beginning of the mountain-trail. He had seen it buried. All of the carteros had been herded under guard after the money was buried and taken into the mountains. Fearing that he would be shot because he knew too much about the treasure, this particular cartero had escaped into the mountains and made his way back to San Nicholas. He had arrived there footsore and hungry.

"When the story was finally told, Lowe's Scouts jumped for their guns and started for the canyon. Every man had visions of great chests of silver pesos and sacks of Spanish gold. We were about halfway to the canyon when a troop of the Third Cavalry passed us on the gallop. In some mysterious manner the story of the treasure had circulated through the town. We were on foot, and of course the cavalry left us far behind in the race. When we arrived at the canyon, we saw the boxes of silver being packed on commandeered carts. A box of gold coin was also found. We learned afterward that more than two hundred thousand pesos had been turned over to the officers of the Third Cavalry. To my knowledge this was not all of the treasure. We were an angry and disappointed bunch of men. We watched those cavalrymen with war in our hearts. Every time a cavalryman moved he clanked like a sack of money. Even their saddle pockets were stuffed with silver. Drearily we hiked back to town.

"The troopers knew that they would be searched when they returned to San Nicholas. Therefore they tried every scheme to hide the coin before their arrival in town. Tying the coins in and kerchiefs, they dropped them into the bushes by the roadside, or behind rocks. The troop was drawn up in the plaza and every man was searched by the officers. Many thousands of dollars were taken from them.As it happened, the Scouts were on outpost duty on the side of town nearest the trail. That night several cavalrymen were seen stealing out past our lines, and the wise members of the Scouts realized what was going on. A number of our fellows formed a chain-guard and awaited the return of those wealthy cavalrymen. It was a case of stand and deliver, or get arrested and taken to the guard-house.

"Thus it came about that the Scouts did not altogether miss sharing in the treasure-trove. A few days later we discovered the cache of furniture from the insurgent government headquarters. In a cleared space in the jungle, a few yards from the trail, we found a great heap of desks, chairs, and furniture of every description. Most of it was made of beautiful hardwoods, - mahogany, nara, rosewood, and teak. We couldn't spend furniture at the canteens, so we left it in the jungle. "


Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira.(If you speak English can see the version in English of the Camiseta Personalizada. Thanks for the attention, bye). Até mais.

Macapili said...

To rodrigo,
the Pilipino text was replaced by an English translation. Thanks for your comment.