THE OTHER BATTLE OF ZAPOTE: THE FILIPINOS BLOODY DEFENSE OF THE MOTHERLAND
by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno
A year after General Emilio Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippines in Kawit, Cavite on 12 June 1898, the Filipinos made one of their bravest and strongest stands to defend and preserve their hard-won freedom against a new colonial invader, at the battle for Zapote Bridge in Bacoor, Cavite on 13 June 1899. It was the peak of the American campaign to force the Philippine nation, the first republic in Asia, to submit to United States’ hegemony over them. Having gained control of the Pasig River, the US army now had the cover to move north-and-southward of the river in its grim determination to crush the Filipinos. It had swept through south of Luzon, though not without fierce resistance from the Filipinos, and reached Parañaque by 10 June. Brig. Gen. Henry W. Lawton had been ordered transferred to the south by Maj. Gen. Elwell S. Otis to take command of the southern force composed of two brigades (equivalent to 4,000 men). He was assisted by brigadier generals Lloyd Wheaton (also transferred from the north) and Samuel Ovenshine. On the Filipino side, Generals Artemio Ricarte and Mariano Noriel commanded a combined 3,000-man infantry force.
The aim of the US forces was to enter Cavite province, Filipino stronghold. Lawton and Wheaton’s forces trekked from Makati toward Muntinlupa, but a point near Sucat, Wheaton’s force was overwhelmed by the unit under Col. Lucas Camerino, forcing Wheaton to seek assistance from Ovenshine, even as the Filipinos under Col. Juan Cailles of Laguna gave them a beating near Parañaque. Not long after, Wheaton was again turned back by Lt. Col. Antero Reyes and his battalion. Meanwhile, while it had successfully foiled the Filipino force at Guadalupe, Lawton’s troops were almost dehydrated by the oppressive Philippine heat, forcing them to unload and reduce their clothing to cope with the march on the terrain between Sucat and Paranaque- much of it dry land with no streams and overgrown with tall cogon grass.
According to historians, had the Filipinos taken advantage of the hapless situation of the US forces by consolidating their forces and tightening their attack, the Americans, or at least Lawton’s division, would easily have been decimated.
As it was, the Americans managed to reconsolidate and recover their strength, with one regiment replaced by Lawton for the purpose, and by June 13, they were ready to face the 4,000-strong Caviteño force entrenched behind five-feet thick trenches on the west bank of the Zapote Bridge. This bridge was crucial for it was the entrance to Cavite province. Using a Spanish cannon, holdover from the Revolution against Spain, the Filipinos destroyed the bridge, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Americans. The Americans retaliated with shellfire from the opposite side. The battle raged on with the Filipinos turning back several waves of American troops, blocking every attempt to penetrate Cavite. The Filipinos would not give easily, many of them said to have prepared for battle by undergoing purification rites and pledging the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the bridge. For them it was a veritable struggle not only between Filipinos and white men but, between good and evil.
In the end, the tide was turned against the Filipinos when almost a hundred sailors armed with machine guns were unleashed from two battleships. The Filipinos were forced to give up Zapote, and blood flowed from thousands of their ranks- thus fulfilling their vows to the Motherland and turning that struggle into one of the defining moments of the bravery of the Filipino nation.