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THE STRANDED WHALE
by Linda Ty-Casper

(A Short Sweep of)
the Philippine-American War
According to Linda Ty-Casper
in the Stranded Whale

In THE STRANDED WHALE, we see the Philippine-American War—from beginning to end, from January 1898 (when the Philippines had won battle after major battle against Spain) to February 1901 (when America had invaded the Philippines). Each chapter opens to a different place, a different month, a different view (Spanish, American or Filipino), an array of different personalities and loyalties (an American officer, an ilustrado family of four brothers of diverse inclinations. Spaniards in defeat: "a colonel of the infantry had blown out his brains…."(79))

The victorious Philippine revolution, the American invasion, and the Philippine war against America—as a story and as history—unfolds page by page. We are summoned to the glories as well as the ignominies of the past: The Republic in Malolos, ready for civil government (November 1898);

The Republic of Candon—"Republica Filipina Katipunan"—in Ilocos Sur (March 1898);

The siege of a Spanish garrison in Batangas (June 1898);

The attack on Spaniards hiding in houses in Bicol (April 1898);

The arrival of Americans in Iloilo where rebel flags fly over the fort and "General Martin Delgado's force [grows] from 3,000 to 12,000";

The Battle of Manila Bay: the Spanish ships sinking one by one and even as "flames darted like Greek fire and floated like the miasma of a newly formed volcano"(79), the ultimatum to surrender Manila within 48 hours;

"Cebu, in unity and pride," declares "The Revolution has reached us after two years";

The American flag flying in Punta Sangley;

Leon Kilat labelled a bandit, but there are "too many to be just bandits"….

In THE STRANDED WHALE, the collective action of the new nation is drawn at the same time as the collective sentiments of the Filipino people and their individual emotions are expressed.

The Declaration of Independence in Cauit from the house of President Emilio Aguinaldo "proclaimed at four in the afternoon of the second Sunday in June" so moved a Filipino son that he was "ready to dash out, unarmed, toward the enemy waiting to destroy the Independence"(88);

Manilans "discuss the legality of the occupation, blaming Dewey for cutting the cables and causing news of the peace protocol to reach Manila three days after it had already surrendered."(112)

A determined position is taken:

We do not need the Americans. We do not need their permission to use the shipyards as headquarters. They are ours by right. We do not need Commodore Dewey to give General Aguinaldo cannons and full honors when he returns…."(85)

A Filipino proudly declares to an American: "we possess something you do not have. A Decalogue to guide the thoughts and conduct of our citizens and soldiers; …not only men but nations…have to be just."(94)

Another reveres the first Philippine flag with eight rays of the sun inside the white triangle: "I'm glad I've lived long enough to see our flag."(87)

Filipino troops refuse to "withdraw from their positions" and challenge the American Military Governor Otis to "show a map… and terms of capitulation". In retaliation, Otis warns that he has enough ammunition ($800 for each discharge of a thirteen-inch gun and $6,000 for each discharge of a battleship's battery) to pulverize the city, while rebels must collect spent cartridges and refill them.

After the first shots in the Philippine-American War were fired, Filipinos distinguished themselves: "We're no longer insurrectos. Nor revolucionarios…. We have a republic and a president. We're a republican army."(145/146)

Against General Otis' 21,000 officers and men in the Philippines were 10,000 Filipinos, "not all under arms or even willing to accept command without argument. There were only officers in the Filipino army, officers chafing at Luna's orders to learn military strategy."(143) Therefore, an oath of commitment from the first Philippine Army is demanded by General Antonio Luna: "In the name of God and my personal honor and dignity, I swear that I will defend until death the honor which is the true symbol of our independence…. So help me God."(110)

In the sweep of the battles throughout the archipelago—from Manila to San Isidro, to Iloilo, to Cebu, to Malolos, to Arayat, to Vigan, to Cabanatuan—each Filipino was "pulled out of a life of common happiness" to confront the only two choices before him: cowardice or patriotism. One Filipino's choice in actual combat inspires awe:

"Senor Aguinaldo our teniente abanderado at the head of our line; behind him, his gun carrier…the bridge at Zapote and the trenches... Refusing to run when the bullets started coming, the general asked those concerned for his safety, 'Do you know where the next one will hit?' … It made everyone brave. We gathered boxes of ammunition the Castila left behind in retreat..."(53)

It was the best time to live…and the best time to die.

I quote with awe Linda Ty-Casper's reflection on living and dying:

Life as a series of calm moments brought nothing but hours slipping by. Nothing worth remembering. Life…was not just about time. It was about what one did; thought; what one became, so that even short lives became important, because dedicated to the country. (149)

The Philippine-American War was a singular moment in history to create the Filipino people and the Philippine nation. Theirs was "a world to create from moment." This is the world re-created in the historical novel, THE STRANDED WHALE.

Every Filipino cannot but savor such a world re-created in the literary and historical text of Linda Ty-Casper. But in the pleasure is the pain—of loss, of lives "not just about time" and "dedicated to the country," lives a hundred years ago and lives a hundred years later. We cannot but interrogate the "calm moments"—"nothing but hours slipping by" "nothing worth remembering."

In another of Linda Ty-Casper's historical novels, DREAM OF EDEN, it is greed—"the root of institutional poverty and institutional corruption" (69)—which is identified as the enemy. As the unrelenting Revolution and War changed Filipinos from flatness and one-dimensionality to wholeness and self-confrontation, so must we address the political, historical, economic complexities of our own time. In the illumination of our history and our heroes in The Stranded Whale, we see that it is not the errors but the glories of the past we should emulate, so that we—each and every Filipino—can participate in the creation of that nation that was dreamed of and fought for a hundred years ago.

© Teresa Martinez Sicat

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