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The Battle of Agdangan

The Clements Letter:
An Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Agdangan

Paulix B. Robosa

From the author:
      Few readers could imagine the joy that comes to the student of history as he or she comes upon a new discovery. Akin to all experiences as in taking a first boat ride, or a friend revealing a secret, it always comes with a feeling of exhiliration mixed with an almost lonely feeling of self-awareness, one being awe stricken by the majesty of the revelation.
      It is into this majestic unknown that the researcher or historian would take upon himself to explore, unmindful of the disappointing dead-ends, but resolute if the passageway ahead opens up to more search and mystery.
      We Filipinos are great storytellers. We stand by the side of the road, or grouped in clusters in a drinking bout recounting or manufacturing all kinds of stories. All agree that no time is too long or alcohol too strong for a good story. But sadly we rarely write stories for posterity.
      Written history from the Filipino point of view are rare or are seldom popular which is eventually lost to memory and in turn, contributing to unbridgeable gaps in our history. This almost always results in the historian relying on a non-Filipino source with a non-Filipino point of view, the rationale being, better a foreign source than no source at all.
      One can complain of colonial mentality but it cannot be helped, these foreign accounts are simply well preserved, well documented and although sometimes, too dramatic or biased to a fault. The majority of historians in the Philippines agree that the best materials about the Philippines and the Filipinos are found elsewhere other than the Philippine Islands.
      Be that as it may, I believe if we start to appreciate and write our stories, specially local oral histories and eyewitness accounts, we will be doing a great service to our nation and our people, imbibing in them a sense of connection, continuity and direction.
      A few days before my article came out on the almost FORGOTTEN Battle of Agdangan, a friend handed me a photocopy of a 1970 Naga Times article on the same. My said article, to say the least, was a disappointment lacking the much needed eyewitness account due to the lack, again, of written accounts from our side. I could have leaped when I saw that article. It confirmed many things, the lenght and ferocity of the engagement, the heroism of the Filipinos, even impressing the American eyewitness calling it "the hardest engagement with the native troops."
      The writer was even more articulate to provide us with dates, times and accurate description of the events almost making it possible to create a reenactment.
      The Article was about a letter written in 1960 to then Naga City Mayor Victorino L. Ojeda from a Dr. George R. Clements of Sebring, Florida, USA.
      May I share with you the "Clements account" of the Battle of Agdangan.

"I note the changes mentioned in your letter that have occurred there since the American forces occupied that region in 1900. Also that you have no written record of the events that took place in Nueva Caceres in that distant past, save perhaps the recollection of old timers who number but a few."

"I was a member of Co. K of the 45th U.S. Volunteer regiment, which was one of the organization that operated in that area in 1900-01. We disembarked from our ship in San Miguel Bay, were landed ashore by small boats, fought our way ashore and on to Nueva Caceres, reaching N.C. on February 22, 1900. Damage to this city was saved by the Native Forces retreating to the Pauili River, about twelve miles distant, where they halted and waited for our approach."

"We left Nueva Caceres about 9:30 PM of February 24, halted south of Pili to wait for daylight, then hiked to the river where we expected opposition, but encountered none. The bridge over the river was blown up, so we had to ford it. Then we halted for breakfast, which was interrupted by a man on horse who came along the road from the south, stopped, fired at us with his rifle, then turned and fled. That was an invitation from the Native Troops to come on, as they were waiting to welcome us."

"You know how hilly and rolling the land there east of the road, and as we reached the top of the ridge, on the next to the south were the Native Troops, lined up, ready for the engagement."

"I'll never forget the sight. At the center of their line was a group of men on horses, taken by us to be their Commanding Officer and his staff. One man right on the center was on a white horse and I assumed him to be the Commanding Officer. At that moment, he flanked by his staff, started directly at us as though we were unarmed. Suddenly a rifle shot split the air. I never knew which side fired that shot. But that set off the fireworks, and about fifty of us shot at that man on the white horse, and (horse) and rider fell and rolled down the hill."

"It must have been 6:00 or 7:00 am on Sunday, February 25, when the engagement began and by 11:00 am we had pushed the Native Troops back south, over the prairie land and rolling prairie hills, to a creek back to which the timber began. After crossing the creek, and with the timber back to them, the Native Troops made a stubborn stand, in spite of the fact that we could see them falling and being hauled away in sleds drawn by carabaos. There were so many Native Troops that as fast as a rifleman fell, another rushed in, replaced him, took his gun and kept on shooting, so that no matter how many we killed or wounded, the same number of rifles were always in action against us."

"At last we got so close tho their line that we advanced by 'rushes, half our men shooting from a prone position while the rest of us rushed a few hundred yards, then fell to the ground and shot to cover the same rushing advance of the other half of our line."

"This continued till we got so close to the Native Troops that our bugler blew "Fix Bayonets abd Charge." When the Native Troops saw that long line of glittering bayonets flash in the bright sun-light, they knew what was coming then, and the Native line broke quickly and the troops fled into the woods behind them."

It was 11:00 or 12:00 am. That was our hardest engagement with the Native Troops. We rested, ate dinner and hiked on to Baao, where we spent the night, and the next morning we hiked on to Iriga where our Commanding Officer of the 45th, Col. Joseph Dorst, established his Regimental Headquarters."

I hope we see the events in Agdangan on February 25, months shy of a century ago in a different light. History has gifted the town of Baao with yet another by-line to figure prominently in Bicol history and though to a lesser extent a significant part in the Filipino-American War of which Centennial year we are currently commemorating. Let us not let it pass again into oblivion."