An American’s Account of Albay (Part II)
The Americans gave us the English language with which we could imagine them - their histories with us, the cultures that they brought into our land, the Americanization of the archipelago.
Last week, I wrote about the accounts written by James H. Blount, soldier first and later, a judge in one of the courts established all over the island, introducing a legal system foreign to us Filipinos, and, in this narrative, Bikolanos.
Blount who was a judge already in 1903 had just arrived in Albay. For some unexplained reasons, he found himself with two other judges - Judge Carson and Judge Linebarger. Carson would handle what they called Part II of the district court. Judge Linebarger “who was on his way to some perturbed region.”
Blount described how Judge Carson had built gallows - structures composed of two wooden pieces in upright positions and a crosspiece - intended for hanging criminals. It was set at a public square of the town (it would be significant to identify this site in the present-day Albay) “for the execution of some brigand Carson had convicted.” Blount mentioned the crimes as ranging from individuals “maltreating some poor farmer’s daughter until she died, or burying an American alive, or what, I do not now recollect.”
What happened next spoke of how justice was dispensed by these men who belonged to the so-called benevolent assimilation. As the three judges were going around the town, someone suggested, as they passed by the gallows, that “they go up on it to get the view.”
Blount wrote: “So we went- the three of us. Then each looked at the other and all thought of the work ahead. Then Judge Carson smiled and dispelled the momentary sombreness by repeating with grim humor, an old Latin quotation he happened to remember from his college days at the University of Virginia: Haec olim meminisse iuvabit (“It will be pleasant to remember these things hereafter”).
Blount went on to describe what was going on with the Ola Insurrection that had continued from October 1902 to October 1903. The result of this was in the jail “that had been filled far beyond its reasonable capacity most of the time.” The account mentioned the sanitary conditions in the jail, which prompted one of the provincial officials to say: “It’s equivalent to a death sentence to out a man in that jail,”
For all the negative impressions Blount would generate from those who read his accounts, the military man/judge talked of an incident that to him left an impression and implied a different way of looking at things. Blount began to ponder on the Benevolent Assimilation and began to have doubts about it. He proposes how maybe the whole business of assimilation “was not a mistake born of a union of avarice and piety in which the avarice predominated - doubts which certain event of the following year…converted in conviction that any decent kind of government of Filipinos by Filipinos would be better for all concerned than any government we could give them…”
What was the situation that brought a sea change in the perspectives of Judge Blount?
He called it the Yule-Tide incident. The docket or list of cases had been disposed of and there was a lull between Christmas and New Year’s day. This, to use the words of Blount, “afforded time for matters more or less perfunctory - actions that are carried out with minimum reflection or thinking - in their nature. Then this happened: “The prosecuting attorney brought in rough drafts of two proposed orders for the court to sign.”
Blount went on: “ One was headed with a list of fifty-seven names, the other with a list of sixty-three names. Both orders recited that ‘the foregoing persons had died in jail - all but one between May 20 and Dec. 3, 1903 (roughly six and one-half months) as will appear from an examination of the dates of death.”
The report concluded that because the accused were all dead the “indictments be quashed.” The cases were being dismissed because the Bikolanos and non-Bikolanos who were all jailed had already died in the same year.
For the sake of illustrating the document, and with due respect to the relatives of those whose names appeared on the report, this was how it appeared:
The United States of America, Philippine Islands,
Eighth Judicial District
In the Court of First Instance of Albay
The United States against
Cornelio Rigorosa died December 3, 1903
Fabian Basques died September 25, 1903
Julian Nacion died October 14, 1903
Francisco Rigorosa died October 18, 1903
Anacleto Solano died November 6, 1903
And the list went on.
The book American Occupation of the Philippines 1898/1912 mentions that these lists were printed in an article by the author which appeared in the North American Review for January 18, 1907, which article was reprinted by Hon. James L. Slayden in the Congressional Record for February 12, 1907.