Escalation

From the perspective of the men of Company C, the final week was like no other.

The routine of drilling at 9 am and casually supervising the halfhearted work was replaced by a very different routine that began with breakfast at 6:30.  At seven the prisoners, who had spent the night in the conical tents standing or squatting, unable to lie down, would be brought out without being fed, and would be broken down into groups of ten and given work assignments by Sergeant Randles.  Blunt-ended but thoroughly sharp work bolos would be issued, and an armed guard of three men would be assigned to each group of ten.   

The surly, resentful looks from the captives were enough to ensure that the men guarding them were alert.  There were few if any breaks and the work proceeded through the sweltering heat of the midday and afternoon, ending only at sunset, with both prisoners and guards thoroughly exhausted. But while the day for the men of Company C ended with a hot meal and return to barracks to rest — for the prisoners it ended with a return to the intolerable conditions of the conical tents.

Each morning, in addition to the prisoner work details, all able bodied townsmen who could not fit in the Sibley tents and who had been allowed to sleep at home would assemble outside the municipal hall and await their own guards who would then then take them and lead them off to cut the underbrush or carry out whatever assignment was given them.   

Police Chief Abanador, acting on orders of the Americans, oversaw specific families with houses on the square, ensuring that members of those families worked on the undergrowth project. 

On Tuesday, September 24, at Connell’s direction, Bumpus set out for Basey and Tacloban, with six men, to collect supplies and to inquire once again for Company mail. This was a repeat of the earlier trip he had made, but on this trip Bumpus pushed the pace to try and get to Tacloban and back as quickly as possible to Balangiga and the increasingly tense situation there.

Recognizing that the new regime could produce a backlash, Connell ordered that the town be effectively disarmed.  He had two groups of prisoners go around he town, enter each home, and seize bolos, sundangs (a pointed machete with an angled blade) and any other weapons from the homes.  A total of seven sacks of weapons were gathered and sorted with the sundangs being separated from the blunt-end work bolos.  The latter were kept close at hand for issuance to the work force, while the former were placed in the tribunal for secure storage.

As the week progressed, Connell began to make his presence felt more and more in the town plaza.  He barked at the guards anytime the prisoners seemed to be working at less than one hundred percent capacity.  He told Randles repeatedly that the pace was not adequate, and that he did not know when the inspection would come, but it was coming soon, and he would not be caught unprepared.

The prisoners stayed in the tents for four days, working from 7am to 5pm.  On Wednesday the 25th, Abanador approached Connell and offered to increase the capability of the workforce by bringing in men from the outlying areas who owed municipal taxes.  Abanador’s concept, as he explained it to Connell,  was to achieve the negotiated the release of the now thoroughly exhausted townsmen by exchanging them for  tribal tax evaders who would continue the work.

Connell agreed.

The next day, Thursday, Abanador brought in forty tribal men from the surrounding mountain rainforest.  These men were markedly different from the townsfolk.  Dressed in loinclothes, tattooed, barechested, they were uniformly muscular and could not be mistaken for anything other than warriors.  More were brought in the next day, and so by Friday most of the townsfolk had been released from the Sibley tents but were still required to work all day alongside the men from the mountains.

Each day, townsfolk who now had no food were forced to line up to receive rations from the Americans. The rations were issued from the seized food stocks and included a small quantity of rice for each family and little more.

As much as he was fixated on the cleanup of the town in preparation for the inspection which could happen any day, Connell was also keenly aware that he had failed to yet make contact with the enemy and he viewed this as a blight on his record which he urgently wished to rectify before the inspection. 

Hoping against hope to achieve such contact, on Thursday the 26th he took Major Griswold and, leaving a force of only twelve men to supervise the work program, sailed up the Balangiga River to the interior in search of contact with the insurgents.   This effort, like all the previous ones, failed to produce any sign of the enemy and at sunset them were back in Balangiga.

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