One of the greatest commander in Aguinaldo’s army, Juan Cailles the great field general in Tayabas and Laguna is all but forgotten now. Unpopular to our history text, unfamiliar to most of us, the Nasugbu born, half French half Indian Cailles, got his early education in the Jesuit run Escuela Normal in Manila and became a maestro in Cavite towns. He taught in Spanish and would be regarded even later in his life as ‘El Maestro’, a fitting moniker for he was a brilliant strategist in battle and in public administration.
At the outbreak of the war against mother Spain, he enlisted and held an officer rank under revolution heroes Evangelista, Tria Tirona and Noriel. Due in part to the deaths of his battle masters, the colonel rose from obscurity to become head master himself, he was commissioned heneral by Aguinaldo in the years that followed. And this adopted son of Laguna would not disappoint.
He was with Noriel when the General was itching to capture the walled city, American historian Benjamin Beede in his book “The War of 1898”, “assigned to the primera zona, Cailles warned of a US troop build up and defied US forces’ attempt to persuade him to retreat. His daring won him praise from Aguinaldo.”
But Aguinaldo, cowed by that American might, later conned by its sales pitch, never took the city. Much to the disappointment of his field commanders, Noriel and men like Cailles, so close but it must have felt like light years for the brave Filipino warriors. No, Intramuros, Manila belongs to the new American lords, not to Aguinaldo’s revolutionary state. The American stole what could have been the greatest victory of the revolution, Americans became new conquerors, It completed the vicious cycle from one master to another. The cry for freedom, remained a cry for it never materialized, no one was liberated. It snapped before it could fulfill its promise. Foreign domination looms as the future of the Filipino state.
The Tagalog warrior would continue fighting for his el Presidente. The most skillful commander in Aguinaldo’s army was only in his mid 30’s; he was young, brilliant and fearless. He was battle tested, he gained invaluable experience fighting the most powerful military force then, and now. The white men he saw Manila bay, the same men who stole Intramuros from his hands is already inland and there is nothing more he could ask for. The war is now in the Tagalog heartland.
“War, War, is what we want!”, he told Aguinaldo. The size of the American contingent is nothing to him, he was a confident fighter.
The same year he was appointed by Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government as military Governor of Laguna. He would employ guerilla warfare, it was his antidote to the overly large American army. Hit and not be hit. He was so successful in his campaigns that it was told then that the confident General proclaimed himself successor to Aguinaldo. The self appointed heir apparent was the shimmer man of the Luzon battlegrounds.
He was ruthless; he commanded deaths for Filipino collaborators. He used terror to his advantage. The New York Times on April 29, 1901 reported about a unit in Cailles army called Mando-Ducats, this men conducted assassinations for American collaborators. In that paper, it was reported that the group was also involve in burying men alive, an act intended to strike fear among the population. He went after the Federalistas, tagged them as traitors and executed them in public. He was branded; warlord by some, Aguinaldo never restrained his actions, communication between the leader and follower even reflected a common stand. He would not be held responsible for the alleged war crimes even during the peaceful years of Quezon’s commonwealth nation. He smoothly transitioned from warrior to public servant.
The American so hated him that they would employ their entire arsenal chasing the Lagunense’s army, much to their disadvantage. He was fighting small, they were fighting big, and it was a classic elephant versus tiger confrontation. So effective that he dealt a major blow to the Americans when he defeated them in their invasion of Mabitac.
The Americans in their desperation to capture the mustached hero circulated 16 blown up photographs and suggested rewards leading to his capture.
Americans portrayed him barbaric and murderous but he would surprised everyone, even his men and his adversary Col. Cheetham when the morning after the battle he allowed Cheetham to retrieve his dead soldiers in the fields of Mabitac, making sure that wounded and dead would be brought to their camps, a sharp contrast to the American propaganda against the brave Heneral.
His military genius would be put to use as Governor when he suppressed the Sakdalan rebellion.
Cailles failure to make progress in Tayabas and in light of Aguinaldo’s capture led him to accept terms for his surrender in Santa Cruz, ending his legendary war career that goes back to his gallant stand with Noriel in the gates of Manila. Together with 650 of his men they laid down their arms. In a ceremony, he tendered his sword to Gen. Summer. The General would return the sword and revolutionary flag to the local hero. Cailles would present these items to Gen. MacArthur, marking the end of his resistance.
He served Laguna as its Governor in 1901 – 1910 and again 1916 – 1925. Later on he was appointed, representative of Mountain Province in the national legislature in 1925, until 1931. He then again became Laguna governor in 1934. He was Laguna’s first Filipino governor.
During his term he built the capitolyo, regional hospital and other important provincial service buildings. He donated years of his salary to a school, being a schoolteacher he understood the importance of educacion, this would later became the Cailles Fund. His adversaries hated him but during his years as public servant, his people loved him.
Aside from the jueteng allegations that Quezon administration raised as a concern, the president said it was more of his wife’s doing – “brave as he is”, the Mestizo leader said, “like all men he’s afraid of his wife”, he would later recognize and call on Cailles as the greatest provincial governor the nation ever had. He lived a peaceful and honest life after he swore allegiance to the new government. He died in 1951 of heart attack.
I dedicate this incomplete history of General Cailles to his great grandchildren, who now tries to learn more about the heroism of their great lolo.