For a month, the occupation of Balangiga by Company C proceeded without major incident. Captain Connell pressed the leadership of the town to provide the labor necessary to cut back the undergrowth and “police up” the town — and this effort never seemed to quite gain a sufficient head of steam to truly effect the kind of cleanup Connell sought. As a result, Connell became increasingly frustrated — not only because of lack of progress on this front, but also because the patrols he sent out repeatedly failed to make contact with the insurgents, and because he and his men were unable to find and interdict supplies heading inland to support the guerrillas. He knew beyond any doubt whatsoever that the townsfolk were supporting the insurgents — he just couldn’t catch them at it.
Adding to Connell’s frustration and concern was he fact that an inspection was coming very soon. Word had come to him in early September and here he was, with late September approaching, and he had very, very little to show as accomplishments after five weeks. The most frustrating part of it was that there was little he could do to produce contact with the insurgents other than send patrols into the hills, and similarly, he could not unilaterally produce seizures of shipments to the rebels if no such shipments were found.
But the cleanup of the town . . . this was the first thing the inspectors would see, and was the one aspect of the situation that was fully within his ability to control the outcome.
Such was Connell’s state of mind when on Saturday night, September 21, two soldiers patronizing a tuba stall got into a dispute and threatened to take the girl selling tuba, Catalina Catologo, away with them. Two brothers of Catologo intervened; a fight ensued and the two Americans were thoroughly beaten up by the two Samarenos.
Connell heard the story with growing outrage.
It was time to teach a serious lesson.
On Sunday, September 22nd, he called in Bumpus and Sergeants Randles, Markley, and Betron and gave instructions to erect two conical Sibley tents at the northwest corner of the tribunal facing the plaza, and to then surround the town and arrest every able-bodied male and put them in the two tents.
After retreat, when the townspeople were in their homes preparing for sleep, the Americans moved. A guard at the perimeter prevented easy escapes, while squads led by the three Sergeants went door to door, removing each adult male and imprisoning him in the conical tents. A total of 143 men were rounded up. Eighty of these were placed in the two tents, which were only designed to provide shelter for sixteen men per tent. The remainder were sent home but were ordered to report for work the next morning.
Overnight, the men were packed in the two tents like sardines and had no room to lie down, nor were they given any food or water. Among those in the tent was Pedro Duran, a member of the police force and second to Abanador in the insurgent shadow government.
The next morning, after having been kept standing or squatting all night with no food or water, Duran decided to approach a guard.
“How long will we be in here?” Duran asked.
“Until Christmas,” came the reply.
An old man nearby counted on his fingers, then announced that everyone would be dead from hunger by then.
At 10 AM, relatives were allowed to bring food and water to the prisoners. They were made to wait until noon, then the prisoners were lined up beside the Sibley tents and the women were allowed to bring food, which they ate standing in the noonday sun. The conversation between Duran and the guard was repeated to family members, and word quickly spread that the Americans had said the incarceration under what were clearly cruel and inhumane conditions would last until Christmas.
In the afternoon, the prisoners went to work cleaning up the town, removing underbrush, and constructing barricades and fortifications meant to protect the American garrison from the Filipino guerrillas. The prisoners were ordered to cut trees, which they then dragged with their bare hands into the town. They were also called upon to repair thatch roofs of the Salazar and Belaez houses, where Americans were housed, to provide protection against the rains.
Separately, Connell gave orders to seize the town’s food stocks. While the men worked, squads entered every home and destroyed rice, fish, and any other food they could find. Pigs, chickens, and other livestock were seized and a hog pen was created in the town square to house the seized animals. Banana trees were also cut down. Connell meant this to be a lesson to the Filipinos who were, he was convinced, sending food to insurrectos in the mountains.
The orders were executed not only in Balangiga town proper, but in the nearby barrios as well. Stories began to circulate among the Filipinos of American soldiers raping girls in the barrios while on their mission to seize livestock and destroy food supplies.
Bumpus found the move by Connell to be distasteful and Griswold clearly detested it, but neither moved to halt it and both of Connell’s fellow officers responded by simply following orders. Similarly, the non-coms and soldiers called upon to execute the orders did so without demurral. Later, many survivors would say that they had not been in favor of the crackdown, but at the time, military discipline prevailed and Connell’s draconian measures were imposed without resistance.
Aside from personal stocks in the homes of the villagers, a total of only 40 bushels of rice were found in the two main storage barns — at best a week’s supply, attesting to the already damaged state of the local food economy. Meanwhile, there would be no harvest locally for many months, and none could be imported or traded because all trading through the port was prohibited.
Food security, already a problem for the townsfolk, was now suddenly a crisis.
* * *
The Samarenos were stunned by the sudden and to them, inexplicable developments. The townspeople had done nothing to warrant such abuse, which was far worse than anything visited upon the town in its history under the Spanish.
None could understand what Connell must be thinking.
In addition to creating fear and consternation, the actions of Connell and the Americans triggered something else — the Waray fighting spirit that had gained them the reputation of the most warlike ethnic group in the entire Philippine archipelago. Awod, a concept that was central to the Waray culture, was brought into play.
Awod is a concept that has multiple layers. It refers to shame or loss of face created by public humiliation, belittlement, or abuse. Once awod is present, it can be removed only by taking revenge equally publicly — and indeed, failing to take revenge and balance the scales invites further abuse and can even invite retribution by supernatural forces. The people of Balangiga in 1901 were not as completely tied to the tradition of awod as their forbears hundreds of years earlier, but the concept was deeply embedded in their culture and by going as far as he did, Connell brought it into play as the townsfolk contemplated how to respond to the affronts of the Americans.
That Monday afternoon, as the imprisoned men went to work, Abanador and two members of the municipal council, Evangelista Gabornes and Mariano ‘Maloy’ Valdenor, called a meeting to discuss how to deal with the situation. There was a clear sense now that Balangiga was in the grip of a tyrant and something had to be done. The key members of the principalia were there — the entire municipal council, plus others. Among those present was Cassiana Nacionales, whose brother had been incarcerated.
The incarceration of the men was bad enough on the face of it, but when combined with the destruction of food and seizure of livestock, it rose to the level of a major threat to the survival of the town. With the food stocks gone and the men incarcerated, there would be no fishing, and only women and children would be available to work the farms.
The October 6 attack was discussed. When the town leadership had agreed to that a week earlier at Daza’s urgings, there had been the sense that the attack might or might not really happen. Agreeing to it simply meant that Daza went away happy, and there would be plenty of time between then and October 6 to come up with excuses to delay it. The leadership had been fence-sitting between the Americans and the insurgents, and Daza’s cajoling had pushed them onto the side of the insurgents.
But while the attack planned for October 6 may or may not have been “real” — it had most assuredly planted the seed of the idea of such an attack, and the basic plans as to how it would be carried out had been discussed with Daza so that the viability had already been considered. Now, with Connell fueling rage, fear, and awod, it was a relatively simple matter for the town leadership to take the October 6 plan and “make it real” — which is precisely what they did.
The attack would proceed, and it would be moved up to September 28, the coming Saturday. Andronico ‘Deko’ Belaez, who was the vice mayor of Balangiga, put forward the idea of using the Americans’ breakfast meal time to the advantage of the attackers. At that time, Belaez observed, the men were concentrated in fewer places than at other times and did not as a rule carry their arms — although their weapons were always nearby.
An attack mounted at the right moment when the men were unarmed and preoccupied with eating would offer the greatest chance of success.
“If we are successful, what will the Americans do?” Abanador asked.
It was a sobering question.
Would Lukban provide protection?
In the mountains, perhaps. Not in the town.
In the days of the Moro raids there had been times when the townsfolk had to withdraw for weeks, even months, into the mountains, away from the vulnerable coastline.
Would this be like that?
Was the attack worth the risk of retribution?
The central riddle of Balangiga is embedded in the meeting that took place that day, and went on until 2:00 AM the next morning.
The end result was that when the meeting broke up, it had been decided. The attack would go forward on the 28th. Word was to be discreetly spread to outlying barrios, and more meetings would take place during the week to develop and confirm the plan of attack.