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Wednesday, May 17, 2006



Chinese cemetery was a bloody battleground

By Go Bon Juan

THE Chinese cemetery in La Loma, Manila, has become a tourist attraction, mainly because it reflects unique Chinese customs and traditions and is home to luxurious mausoleums. Most Chinese also know of the memorials set up in honor of the heroes and casualties of the Japanese Occupation in World War II. But few know the historical importance of the cemetery itself as a battleground during the turn of the century.

On February 5, 1899, a day after the Filipino-American War broke out, a battle was fought at the Chinese cemetery between the two forces. The battle was described in Marconi M. Dioso�s A Trilogy of War:

�After the artillery fire lifted, MacArthur ordered the advance to begin at 12:30 p.m. Before the advance got under way, the 1st Montana Regiment burned down the native nipa houses in its immediate front. This occurred in mid-morning, and the resulting debris from this destruction had to be cleared by two companies in preparation for the regiment�s advance. The 1st Montana Volunteers advanced and found the deserted Chinese hospital in its line of march. The Filipinos manning blockhouse No. 2 stiffly resisted the Montana soldiers� advance. Seven companies of the regiment had to storm the blockhouse to drive the Filipinos out. The 10th Pennsylvania Volunteers occupying the position to the right of the Montana Regiment advanced through two miles of swampland before reaching the Chinese cemetery. Here the Filipino forces behind the cover of the headstones and the stonewalls of the Chinese church furiously fought the 10th Pennsylvania for two hours. The 10th Pennsylvania finally captured the Chinese church. The Filipino resistance dissipated after the fortified La Loma Catholic Church situated on a hill was enveloped and conquered by the 3rd Artillery driving from left. The 3rd Artillery paid dearly for this assault on the La Loma church, losing five men killed and nineteen wounded.�

The battle from the American viewpoint

In Harper�s History of the War in the Philippines, edited by Marrion Wileox, B.A. Ll.B., published in 1900, there is also a detailed description of the battle, but of course from the point of view of the Americans.

Here are excerpts:

�When the advance began on Sunday morning the line ran as follows: first came Kansas near the shore, next the Third Artillery acting as infantry, beyond them Montana, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. The whole line went forward at the same time, Kansas through the continuous village along the road to Caloocan. The Third Artillery, moving along three dikes with swamps on either side, found themselves in a regular cul-de-sac, out of which they got, as soon as possible, with the loss of 25 man. They came out practically in battle-line. Although to either side of them our men were shooting heavily, they had not fired a single shot up to that moment. Indeed, the Third Artillery was so well under the control of its officers that not a single shot was fired by them during the entire day except on command, and then Mahor Kobbe made use of volleys only.

On a little elevation to their right lay the Chinese church, whose walls were lined with insurgents firing down upon the Montana and Pennsylvania regiments in a hollow still farther to the right. One battery under Lieutenant Kesler fired volleys at the church, and that, combined with the shells of Captain Grant, Utah Battery B, so demoralized the enemy that they deserted the Chinese church, and flying up the hill, made their last stand on Cemetery Ridge, where is Binondo Church. Captain O�Hara, Third Artillery,  led his men up the hill in full view of everybody, as if they were marching up Broadway, and took the Chinese church at 2:30 p.m.

In hard straits

�In the meantime Pennsylvania and Montana were in hard straits. They had fought their way up through the Tondo district, among the houses and clumps of trees, and had at least reached an open field beyond which lay the steeper incline of the Chinese cemetery with its barbed wire and its impeding graves and headstones. On their left from the elevation of the Chinese church a strong body of insurgents threw a flanking fire into them. In front, from strong redoubts and from Binondo Church, an uninterrupted hail of bullets barred their way. At 2:30 p.m., the Third Artillery had taken the Chinese church and thus relieved their position somewhat; but it remained to South Dakota to clear the way, by closing in on the right and taking the insurgent redoubts on Cemetery Ridge. This Colonel Frost, South Dakota, did a little after 3 p.m., then at the head of his regiment he charged up the final slope to the right of Binondo Church, while a portion of Pennsylvania, led by Colonel Hawkins and Major Bell, forced their way through the wretched barbed-wire fences of the cemetery, and came up to Binondo Church just after South Dakota reached that place. The Utah guns of Battery B, under Captain Grant and Lieutenant Critchlow, during this attack, had advanced along the winding road of the cemetery, amidst the hottest of the fire, stopping from time to time to shell the enemy�s position. About 4:30 p.m. Cemetery Ridge was ours, and the light uniforms of the insurgents could be seen scattering over the plain ahead like frightened flocks of grouse. Over the ridge after them went the Third Artillery, and following them the rest of our line, with a shout and a hurrah. The Indians were stampeded, and this sort of hunting was too good sport for our men to stop immediately. Down into the plain they went, and would have gone to Caloocan, were it not that orders came from General MacArthur�s headquarters to stop.

The fight for Cemetery Ridge had been a splendid display of American dash.�

The Chinese cemetery is still there, as well as the Chinese church and Binondo Church. But nothing stands there today to remind people that a fierce battle was fought a century ago right after the Filipino-American War broke out. There is no historical marker for our valiant defenders, not even in the memory of most of our people.

(Editor�s note: The ceremony presenting the Fifth Dr. Jose P. Rizal Awards for Excellence will be held on June 19, 7 p.m. at the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center on Anda and Cabildo streets, Intramuros, Manila.)




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