A. Paulita Roa .
MARCH 30 was the 118th anniversary of the coming of the American forces to Cagayan de Misamis (Cagayan de Oro), the capital town of Misamis Province. On that fateful day, the lookout unit headed by Clemente Chaves that was stationed in Buntola Hill (the area where High Ridge restaurant is located) saw the arrival of big American warships that started to unload hundreds of American soldiers at the mouth of the Cagayan River. Chaves then ordered their lone canon to be fired for this was the signal to the townspeople that the enemy has arrived.
These well-armed soldiers in their khaki and dark blue uniforms then marched along Del Mar St. (Apolinar Velez St.) as frightened Kagay-anons watched helplessly. A big group of American officers headed by Gen. Bates, Col. Goodwin, commander of the Regiment No. 40 of the US Volunteers, and Maj. James F. Case rode in fast motor launches and landed at the back of the Casa Real (City Hall). They went up the building and immediately relieved Provincial President Jose Roa y Casas and other officials of their duties. But they told Municipal President Toribio Chaves and Cipriano Vamenta, the chief of police, to stay until further notice. American soldiers were then stationed in every street of the town. All the big houses around the plaza (Gaston Park), including the convent of San Agustin Church, were converted as barracks for these soldiers.
It was also at this time when hundreds of Kagay-anons and Misamisnons went up the Gango Plateau to join the armed group headed by a young lawyer and school master, Nicolas Capistrano. The group was known as the Liber Troop or Liberation Army. Months before the American invasion, volunteers underwent military training at the plaza and it was agreed upon that in the event that the Americans will come, they will form a resistance army to fight them in order to secure their freedom. Among the volunteers were women from Lapasan headed by Arcadia Valenzuela. Many wives of the soldiers headed by Cecilia Capistrano also went up to Gango with their children and never left their husbands during the duration of the war.
April 7 will mark the 118th anniversary of the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis. A week after the Americans came and occupied the town, Capistrano and his men staged what was to be a surprise attack on the American soldiers sleeping in the houses around the plaza. They waited just outside the town for the church bells to ring for the early dawn mass at the San Agustin Church. When the bells rang, immediately the men sprang into action. Capistrano and his officers on horseback, stood in front of today’s water tower (Cagayan de Oro City Museum) and silently directed the men through hand signals relayed to other officers who were with the macheteros and the artillery.
According to foremost Kagay-anon historian, Filomeno M. Bautista, the first in line were the macheteros carrying the ladders to scale the houses. The artillery men were next in line. All of them moved silently. Suddenly, the stillness of the early dawn was shattered by the piercing war cries of the Bukidnon warriors who killed the American guards that were assigned to the quarters of their commanding officer.
This woke up the enemy and fierce fighting ensued inside the barracks while other Americans from the windows and some on the church belfry, exchanged fire with the artillery on the ground. Apolinar Pabayo fought inside the barracks using his sword, wounding many before he himself was killed. Clemente Chacon fought courageously while standing on the ladder. He was pushed and he fell on to the ground, sustaining a big gaping wound on his head. When Capistrano saw that they were losing the fight, he ordered for a retreat. He and his men fled to the direction of Camaman-an where the Americans could not catch them.
Almost a hundred bodies of the men belonging to the Liber Troop lay around the plaza and in some of the nearby houses. Bautista wrote that most of them were young and they gave their lives willingly so they can continue to live in freedom that they had briefly enjoyed. It was Toribio Chaves and some Kagay-anons that gathered up the dead and gave them a decent burial.
On April 7, 2000, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP (formerly the National Historical Institute) installed the prestigious national historical marker at Gaston Park on the centennial year of the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis. Unfortunately, this marker was moved by Mayor Oscar Moreno without consultation with NHCP to another area in Gaston Park, facing the City Tennis courts and is devoid of any historical meaning. The original site of the marker faced the Cagayan de Oro General Hospital that once was the building known as the Club Popular. It was at Club Popular where most of the men from the Liber Troop signed the Pact of Resistance where they vowed to fight and defend their land to preserve their freedom. Club Popular later became an American barracks that was one of the scenes of the bloodiest fighting of this historic battle.
Almost a year later, on April 6, 1901, Gen. Nicolas Capistrano told his men that after a series of peace negotiations with the Americans in Gusa, he has accepted the terms of peace. On the late afternoon of April 6, 1901, the general gathered his men for the last time and made a brief farewell speech:
“You have to leave immediately for Sumilao so as to be there before 8:00 o’clock tomorrow morning. We fought through the war together for the defense of our Fatherland. As your chosen leader, I have done the best I could for you. God grant that hereafter, our people will enjoy greater freedom as a result of the war. You are now ready to return to your loved ones and live in peace and to work for the best interest of our country.”
On April 7, 1901, a year after the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis, the men of the Liber Troop, the local resistance army headed by Gen. Nicolas Capistrano, surrendered to the Americans at around 9:00 o’clock in the morning in the town plaza of Sumilao , Bukidnon. Some of the officers like Maj. Justo Gaerlan were exiled to Guam where he died shortly afterwards. Gen. William A. Kobbe reported that the Sumilao surrender under Capistrano’s command yielded nine officers, 160 men, 187 rifles and 80 shotguns. According to Gen. Arthur MacArthur, this event “ended troubles in Mindanao as far as Filipinos were concerned.”
Not many of you know that there is a Plaza de los Heroes, the only Philippine-American War memorial in Mindanao that is located near the Pueblo de Oro Development Corp. office along Masterson Avenue. This was erected with the help of Pueblo de Oro Development Corp. under the then general manager, Rudy Menes, and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 2004. Being a member of the Cagayan de Oro Historical Commission, I was tasked to do the research and write the battle accounts and names of our heroes and heroines of this historic war. Do find time to visit this memorial for it holds a vital piece of our local military history.