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Meet the Foreign Revolutionaries Who Fought for the Philippines

They might not be Filipino, but they believed in the country.
ILLUSTRATOR Roland Mae Tanglao
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There is something romantic about revolution. The idea that all people should be free to forge their destiny naturally attracts people from all walks of life, including those who find common cause with revolutionaries. From Lafayette and the Americans, to Bethune and the Chinese, to Che and the Cubans, revolutionary causes often transcend lines of nationality. The same is true with the Philippines. Foreigners have, time and again, supported our causes for various reasons. Let’s take a look at some of them.

1| Juan Cailles


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In the provincial capital of Santa Cruz, Laguna, stands a statue of a man in military uniform. The plaque reads that Juan Cailles was a teacher, a revolutionary, and the first governor of Laguna.

Although born in Nasugbu, Batangas, Cailles was a French-Indian mestizo. His family was relatively well-off and Cailles was able to finish studies at the Escuela Normal (now Ateneo), leading to his career as a teacher in Cavite. 

Though a foreigner, Cailles considered himself a Filipino. The start of the revolution led him to organize a squad composed of his pupils’ fathers. Cailles proved his worth in the Katipunan, eventually becoming one of Aguinaldo’s top officers by the time he signed the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. 

Cailles continued the Revolution upon Aguinaldo’s return from exile, replacing Paciano Rizal as the leader of forces in Laguna, and even defeating the Americans in the Battle of Mabitac. He continued in this position until news of Aguinaldo’s capture led him to surmise that the war was lost. After the war, he collaborated with the colonial government as governor of Laguna, a position he held four times. 

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His revolutionary experience was instrumental in putting down another rebellion: the May 2, 1935 uprising of the Sakdals in Cabuyao, led by Generala Salud Algabre. Cailles eventually succumbed to a heart attack on June 28, 1951.

2| David Fagen


As an infant republic, the Philippines quickly found itself fighting against another imperialist power: the United States of America. Economic interest and racism led the Americans to quell any spark of nationalism, under the guise of “benevolent assimilation.” The truth was the Americans thought little of Filipinos.

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David Fagen was an African-American soldier sent to the Philippines as part of the 24th Infantry Regiment. He saw first-hand how his white compatriots treated the Filipinos, calling them black devils and gugus or relishing the thought of shooting them. He found common cause with this racism, being treated much the same way, as he was sent to the Philippines to “carry the white man’s burden” and made to do all sorts of dirty jobs. Fagen couldn’t see why he should help his country oppress another nation, when he himself was being oppressed in the same way.

On November 17, 1899, Fagen, with the help of a Filipino officer who provided a horse for him, slipped out from camp and disappeared into the forests of Mount Arayat. He then began his career as a guerrilla.

Fagen was an excellent guerilla captain who successfully led Filipino troops in raids across Central Luzon. He fought the American forces at least eight times, from August 1900 to January 1901, each time harassing them and evading capture. His exploits made him famous and his success was a source of frustration for the American occupying forces.

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In 1901, a bounty hunter named Anastacio Bartolome claimed to have killed Fagen, presenting a decomposing head in a sack as proof. The Americans took this as evidence and closed the case, though rumors persisted that Fagen faked his death and was living in the forests with his wife.

In any case, Fagen was a motivated revolutionary who fully committed himself to the Filipino cause. Whether he believed in the Filipino’s right to self-determination, or he saw in our plight the struggle of his people, we’ll never truly know. But in a time when he had to choose between his nation and freedom, he knew who his true enemies were.

3| William J. Pomeroy


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In 1952, as part of a series of military operations meant to defeat the communist Huk rebellion, government forces managed to capture a married couple in the forest. Their circumstance was curious: the woman, Celia Mariano, was a top-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ education committee. Her husband, the American William J. Pomeroy.

Bill Pomeroy was a writer and a soldier. Like Fagen, he was dispatched to the Philippines, this time to aid in the war against the Japanese. Unlike Fagen, Pomeroy did not find common cause in how the Filipinos were treated. He was disgusted by something else: American imperialism itself.

“To my intense shame, I was not a member of an army bringing freedom,” he recalled in his memoir The Forest. “I was a member of an army reestablishing an imperialist rule. I swore to myself then that I would not rest until I had done all that I could to correct that wrong, until I had wiped from my own hands the moral stain that had been placed there, until I had put my American strength on the side of the those who had suffered from American imperialism.”

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In 1947, Pomeroy went to the mountains to join the Huks, disgusted at how his own country exploited the Filipinos. He was fighting a revolution against what he saw as a broken system that transcended any nationality—that of class exploitation and foreign encroachment. His revolution, however, sadly ended in defeat.

Pomeroy and his wife Celia moved to England. Bill focused on his writing while Celia became a school teacher. He stayed in London until his death in 2009 as a lifelong believer in freedom.

Sources:

Juan Cailles, the Self-Styled Dictator of Luzon, is Described as a Fierce Fighter and a Man of More Than Ordinary Ability. San Francisco Call (87:149). April 28, 1901

Tucker, Spencer. The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. Vol 1. 2009. ABC-CLIO, LLC: 84-5

Rafael, Vicente. David Fagen (1875 - ?). Black Past. February 11, 2007.

Brown, Scott. White Backlash and the Aftermath of Fagen's Rebellion: The Fates of Three African-American Soldiers in the Philippines, 1901-1902. Contributions in Black Studies (13:5), Cornell University. 1995: 165-73

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Ryan, Joseph. The Saga of David Fagen: Black Rebel in the Philippine Insurrection. Socialist Action. June 1998.

The People of the Philippines vs. William J. Pomeroy, et al. G.R. No. L-8299. November 28, 1955.

Kerkvliet, Benedict. The Huk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University Press. 2014: 256-7

Bezkorvany, Sergei. Obituary: William J. Pomeroy. The Guardian. June 1, 2009.

Lanzona, Vina. Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University Press. 2010: 83-4

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About The Author
Justin Umali
Justin is left-handed, left-leaning, and best left in a cool, damp place. He listens to Vampire Weekend when he's down and Car Seat Headrest when he's not. He usually writes about Philippine history and politics, and believes that you cannot change the world without understanding it first.
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