Monday, June 2, 2008


By William C. Farr

Philippine Magazine

May 1938

In the early part of 1911, the writer, then a lieutenant in the Philippine Constabulary, was stationed at Indang, Cavite, commanding the Second Cavite Company. Indang is situated a thousand feet above sea level, on the general slope of Cavite Province that rises towards Tagaytay ridge. It is about 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Taal volcano, then active.

During the night of January 27-28, 1911, numerous earthquake shocks were felt, repeated about every half hour with increasing intensity until the eruption. Some of the shocks were strong enough to rock the buildings, but none lasted over a minute. The people of the uplands of Cavite Province did not seem worried about these shocks, but took them as a matter of course

On January 28, I left Indang on one of my usual inspection trips, passed through Silang, and arrived at Carmona late in the afternoon of the same day. Carmona is located in Cavite Province on the plain of Laguna de Bay and is about 33 kilometers (21 miles) from Taal volcano. I spent the 29th in Carmona, inspecting the town police and the records of the Justice of the Peace. Beweeen one and two o'clock on the morning of January 30th, a loud report was heard, which woke the sleeping town, the people all rushing out of their houses. In the direction of Taal volcano we saw a huge column of fire reaching up toward the sky, which quickly changed to black, with streaks of fire running through it, like lightning in dark clouds, occasionally followed by a noise like thunder. Soon the town of Carmona was covered with a thin layer of lava ash.

Carmona was not in telephone connection with any other part of the province, the nearest telephone being at Silang about 13 kilometers (9 miles) away, and as it was important that I get in touch with my station at Indang, to learn if any damage or casualties had occurred in that place or in the town of Mendez, which was nearer the volcano, I left Carmona at daybreak, and alternately walking and running, arrived at Silang in about an hour. There was no road, just a winding trail through tropical forests. What was rich in green foliage when I had passed through two days before was now a dull gray. Trees, plants-everything was covered with a thin layer of volcanic ash.

Immediately upon arriving at Silang I got into telephone communication with my junior officer, Lieutenant Percival, and he told me there was no damage done in either Silang or Indang, except by the lava ash which was heavier in these places than in Carmona.

Feeling sure that assistance would be needed by the Constabulary stationed in Batangas Province, I instructed Lieutenant Percival to take ten men and all available medical supplies at Indang and proceed at once over Tagaytay ridge to the town of Talisay, situated in the north shore of Taal Lake, and I ordered another detachment to patrol along Tagaytay Ridge to learn the condition there.

I arrived in Indang that evening at six o'clock. I was suffering from a severe attack of malarial fever, but there was no time to rest, for there was work to do and plenty of it. I gave up the idea of going at once to the shores of Taal lake with great reluctance, but my district, which consisted of half of Cavite Province, had to be looked after. A big town fiesta was scheduled at Silang, where the religious and political situation was acute, and I considered the presence of Constabulary officer necessary there. As a matter of fact there was trouble at that fiesta and only prompt action on the part of the town officials and myself prevented it from becoming serious. But that is another story. Also, a watchful eye had to be kept on Pablo de Castro and his band of outlaws, for it was an opportune time for them to become active. Fortunately, all during the relief work, this band was conspicuous by being very quiet. Whether this was because the eruption overawed them, or for some other reason, I do not know. Repeated attempts on my part to get in telephone communication with the Constabulary Senior Inspector at Cavite, the capital of the province failed, as was to be expected; at that time the telephone system in Cavite Province was anything but reliable. This left me on "my own", with all responsibility mine. When telephone connections were finally made with the Senior Inspector on February 2, the first thing he did was to "bawl" me out for sending a detachment into the stricken district without authority from him.

Reports came to Indang'of refugees, many of them injured, coming to the town of Mendez. The Senior Inspector who had come to Indang, his dignity still ruffled over my action in sending the detachment to Talisay without orders from him, ordered me to take a patrol to Mendez and check up on the reports and make preparations to remove the injured to Naic from where they could be transported by boat to Manila. Leaving Indang at daybreak on February 3, I arrived at Mendez with my patrol after an hour's hike, and found the town officials all upset by the influx of the refugees from the stricken area. They did not show the usual Filipino hospitality, and in fact, requested in no uncertain terms, that the refugees be at once removed as the town had no food to feed them. Nor were they willing to help me to get cargadores to transport the injured, and only by "strong arm" methods was I able to gather the necessary men.

There were some four hundred refugees, of whom about twenty-one were severely injured, including men, women, and children. The injured had been without medical attention or even first aid, and Corporal Tique of the Constabulary Medical Corps, who accompanied me, immediately got busy with the limited means at hand. Injuries consisted of burns about the head, shoulders, arms, and feet. In some cases women were burned around the waist; particularly those who had been nursing children. At that time, the average provincial Filipina, during the period of child nursing, wore a short, lose bodice, leaving part of the waist exposed.

There was a Spaniard with the refugees, who had formerly been a sergeant in the Spanish Army and had settled in the barrio of Bayuyungan, on the north shore of Taal lake. He stated that when the eruption occurred, he gathered as many people as he could at the Bayuyungan river, a small stream, and had them immerse their bodies in the water to protect them from the falling hot lava ash. He stated that a heavy gas had settled in the valley, making it difficult to breathe, which suddenly exploded, instantly killing many people, and causing the water of the lake to dash up on the land like a tidal wave. After the falling of hot ash had subsided, he led the people, injured and uninjured, up the steep precipice of Tagaytay ridge to Mendez. It is a wonder how some of the injured were able to make the climb of over two thousand feet over a very steep trail. One young woman I discovered lying in a small hut in what had once been a rice field. Her clothes had been completely burned off. There was not a spot on her body that was not burned and even her hair was gone. Between her legs lay a dead prematurely born child. She herself was alive and conscious. First aid was given her, but she failed to survive the trip to Naic.

In the afternoon, I was making arrangements to transport the injured by cargadores to Naic, when the Senior Inspector arrived. He had received a telegram from Constabulary Headquarters, Manila, stating that the Senior Inspector of Batangas had reported that people from Cavite Province had crossed the border and were robbing the dead in the stricken district. The Senior Inspector was very much worked up about this, though I doubted that the report was true and believed it might have been caused by some of the refugees returning to search for their dead relatives and gather the meager belongings they had left behind, and seeing Constabulary patrols or other people approaching, running away. At that time there was bitter feeling between the people of the two provinces, probably dating back to tribal days, and neither could think good of the other and were ready to accuse them of any fault. That very likely accounted for the lack of hospitality on the part of the people of Mendez towards the refugees. I explained this to my superior, but he was inclined to believe that the report was true and that it should be investigated at once. The evacuating of the injured would have to wait, and he ordered my arrangements stopped. Not until several days afterward were the injured transported to Naic under the supervision of Lieutenant Percival. The rest of the day and that night I spent unsuccessfully in trying to ascertain the truth of that telegram. Early the next day the Senior Inspector, accompanied by myself and my detachment, left Mendez, arriving on Tagaytay ridge at sunrise. It was my first view of the Batangas valley since the eruption. What a scene of desolation greeted our eyes! Gone was the beautiful valley with its blue lake. Gone was the gorgeous foliage and the peaceful villages amid the trees. Gone were the green slopes of Volcano Island in the center of the lake, and the many-colored cloud usually hovering over the crater. Instead everything was a dirty gray, the water in the lake had a dirty color, the villages had disappeared. The slopes of Volcano Island were bare of any vegetation, and from the crater issued a threatening black column of smoke. After spending about a half an hour viewing the scene of destruction, our party descended down a hog-back that ran from the top of the ridge into the valley towards the barrio of Bayuyungan. Even in ordinary circumstances the descent of the ridge was difficult, but then it was doubly so, because of the lava mud which made the trail slippery and dangerous.

Upon arrival at the lake shore, we made contact with a Constabulary relief party under Major Grove, of which Lieutenant Percival and his detachment was a part. Colonel William C. Rivers and Majors Gurney and Sweet had just arrived in a launch from the town of Taal. Colonel Rivers was then a captain in the United States Army, and detailed as one of the assistant directors of the Philippine Constabulary. Major Gurney was Chief of the Constabulary Medical Division and Major Sweet was Senior In- 4 Spector of Batangas Province. He did splendid work at that time for which he never received proper official recog- j nition. The united parties proceeded to what was left of Bayuyungan, and, taking possession of the largest house, converted it into a combined barracks and hospital. Here were assembled all the injured found in the vicinity. First aid was given them, prior to their being transported to hospitals at Los Bafios and Manila.

Bayuyungan is situated on high ground, partly protected from the crater by foot hills that extend from Tagaytay ridge to the lake shore, and was, therefore not totally destroyed as were the barrios of Bigaan, Ginlot, Bosoboso, Banaga, and Bilibinang, which were located in the foot hills and only about four and a half miles (7 kilometers) from the crater. It was decided to leave me and my detachment with Major Grove's party. while the Cavite Senior Inspector with Lieutenant Percival and his detachment left that afternoon for Indang. Lieutenant Percival, with less than a year's service in the Constabulary and in spite of his lack of experience, did excellent work in the stricken district.

The next day Major Grove directed Lieutenant Stone of the Constabulary and myself to take a detachment and go to the destroyed barrios and locate the dead in aid to the U. S. Army Burial Corps, which was expected. It was a horrible job. The stench of decaying bodies was sickening. The villages in which we worked had been totally destroyed; not one house was left standing. Being of bamboo and nipa structure, the houses had simply collapsed, but in most cases the roofs, being pyramidal in shape, had retained their form. To locate the dead, these had to be dug into. Some were found empty, while others would contain as many as fifteen to twenty corpses of all ages, leading one to believe that when the eruption came, the younger people had fled to the houses of their parents. Sometimes a corpse could be located by following a track made in the lava mud, which would lead to a mound of ash covering a human body. Some bodies were found in the branches of trees. The writer saw a dead carabao, several feet from the ground, lodged in the branches of a tree, probably blown there by the force of the explosion of the gases that settled in the valley after the eruption. In every case the features of the dead were completely obliterated, showing that in most cases death was caused by the explosion. As "rigor mortis" had set in, the bodies were found in every position and posture. Many bodies were found together in close embrace. A number of premature childbirths were discovered. We marked the places containing bodies with little flags.

After the job of locating the dead was done, came the work of burying. The Army burial detachments with the assistance of the Constabulary took charge of this work. The- method was to dig a trench six feet deep by six feet wide and as long as was necessary to accommodate the dead in that vicinity. A tally was kept, the bodies were laid side by side, and the trench was filled in. A sign board was erected at both ends, on which was marked the number of males, females, and children, and the number of those whose sex was unrecognizable. About 500 were buried under my own supervision. This duty lasted some four days, when I was relieved by another Cavite detachment under Lieutenant Hawkins.

Much has been written about the splendid relief work the Red Cross did after the Taal eruption, but during the whole time I was in the stricken district, I saw no evidence of this. The burden of the actual work done was borne by the various detachments of the Philippine Constabulary None could help but admire how the enlisted men of that corps, who were all Filipinos, responded to the situation and to the orders of their officers. The Red Cross officials spent their time dashing aimlessly around the lake on a launch. At one time the launch arrived at Bayuyungan and Major Grove stated he was glad it had come as there were some injured to be evacuated. But he was informed that it would be impossible to take any injured on that trip because there were American women aboard the launch. In the section where I was at work, no supplies of any nature were sent in by the Red Cross. The food that was sent in for the relief of the people came from Manila commercial firms.

It would have been better had all sight-seeing parties been kept out the district. They came expecting to be taken care of by the Constabulary officers; and then complained because things were not what they had expected and the meals were poor-when the Constabulary were having a hard time to get rations to feed themselves.

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