Diary of Lieutenant X (Aime Ernest Motsch)

Thursday, 5 May, 1898

At Sea. Arrival in Manila

This morning,I I was on duty from 4 to 8 o’clock. When I reached the bridge, I saw high mountains behind the port. In the half-light of the tropical dawn, the outline of these mountains made the sun appear veiled in the morning mist. The horizon glowed before my eyes, with every detail clearly defined by nature. Landing will be easy. I am looking forward to the unfolding of the spectacle now veiled in semi-mystery at this hour of the day. I always experience a profound joy when I stand to watch similar circumstances. To my mind, this is one of the joys of sailor’s life, and I am gladdened even by the most insignificant event. As we approach land, we feel enthralled by the unknown. I am overwhelmed by these mountaintops, these bays, these forests which I see for the first time and perhaps will never see again. Here, the islands are slumbering in the warm shade, and over there, mountains rise in the midst of misty skies. The discovery of sights never seen before influences the pleasure of changing our route or even giving an order. . .

I am alone keeping the watch, and the world unfolds before my eyes. The sea is calm, and the sparkling bubbles of the phosphorescent waves left by the ship in its wake slowly disappear with the night. The propeller ceases to churn this sparkling blue as it spews out water teeming with life. The musky smell of the earth, like perfumed skin, is emitted gently by the breeze. A gust of wind, rustling like leaves, passes over the islands in the distance. As I smell the wind, I hear the whispering of the swaying palms.

Daylight unfolds as an immense light filters from the east. the sparkling waves announce that the sun is about to appear. This dazzling white, the color of fused metal, makes its first appearance at break of day, while the sky becomes blue which brightens to marvelous tones on the horizon. From the portside, one can see the tips of the mountains take shape. The hazy mist showing patches of carmine and purple rays of light mingles with the silvery foam, which appears like white roses shedding their petals into nacre shells.

We recognize the mountains which run along the south of Manila Bay. We increase our speed to 17 knots. Soon we are within sight of Corregidor. We set our direction straight for the island in order to pass between it and Hornos Point. The sea is completely calm. There is no encounter: neither an American nor a Spanish ship in sight. A delightful silence adds to the charm of the cool early hours. The islands are green and covered with giant ferns intertwined in thick masses on the hillsides.

Still nothing. All is silent. However, we are not sure what lies beyond. It could be a boat without a a mast. . . We draw near. It looks like a red, rudderless barge with five or six persons aboard. . . We raise our colors and ask the pilot to identify himself. . .

There is no reaction from the barge. We continue advancing. We appear to be between the point and Corregidor, with the Cochinos Islands in between. We are entering Manila Bay. . . There seems to be a semaphore on the island –why does it not reply? Finally, we receive a signal. We interpret the message just in time: Attention! Dangerous route without a pilot. “Well, let them give us one.” We wait for an hour. The commandant declares that he is going to stop. Who knows if there are torpedoes and other objects here? The ship stops. From time to time we move to and fro in order to remain at the entrance of the bay. We signal another request for a pilot. After a while the semaphore replies, “I wait. . . no. . . I have a pilot.” This is probably the French translation for “No tengo piloto,” to say they have nobody available.

We do not have the vaguest sense of what to think or do. We have not yet decided whether to drop anchor in Mariveles Bay or enter the port. But what is going on? Is everyone sleeping or maybe dead? In the meantime, a miserable-looking steam launch flying the Spanish flag is moving along before us towards the coast of Mariveles.

Some are astonished but most of us are annoyed. On deck, officers ask each other questions about this inexplicable event that no one can explain. An actual debate ensues. Time passes, and as the sun moves higher in the sky, the heat mounts. Some laugh while two or three seethe with anger but remain silent. We go down to the mess hall where discussions continue.

“Let us send off an officer to get us the information we need,” declares someone. “What brutes!” is the violent opposition expressed by another. “They are keeping us in suspense. Basically, they are avoiding us. When the archbishop’s permission was sought, he allegedly replied that we should not be allowed entry. We deserve a lesson. I am convinced that the Linnet, which arrived yesterday, showed that it had a mission and a definite purpose for remaining before the signal station. In the bay, we must be the laughing stock.”

The mere thought that an Englishman or an American could find our situation ridiculous annoys us. All the same, those who detest the friars for meddling in all affairs are not far from accusing the Church for this absurd situation and crying out in a half-serious and half-mocking manner: “Here again we have another clerical situation. It is the friars who govern here.” “Come. Let us harass some priests,” someone retorts. “Do you think it is better to be governed by an archbishop or by a bar owner?” “Of course I would rather have a bar owner rather than even the Pope. The Spaniards are led by the nose by these monks. They get what they deserve. What is happening here is a good lesson.”

It is noon. No news, no ships, nothing. Finally, we perceive three American warships in single file passing before us and heading towards the pass. They do not pose any danger, so we decide to allow them to enter the bay. In the afternoon, they anchor in front of Manila. We know nothing yet. Then, a French steamboat approaches, bringing the chancellor of the consulate.

“Have you heard the news?” he shouts.

“No, tell us.”

“Well, last Sunday and Monday, the Americans sank and burned all the Spanish ships anchored in Cavite. Now masters of the bay, they threaten to bombard Manila.”

All heads turn enthusiastically towards the chancellor as he hastily recounts the events. The air is charged with emotion and everyone’s curiosity is aroused. Questions arise and frenzied discussion can be heard everywhere. There is a unanimous cry against the Americans. There is a unanimous cry against the Spaniards. Imagine! Attacking ships at anchor! Is it possible? . . . These despicable Americans!. . . Undoubtedly, the Spaniards have been completely crushed!. . .

Night falls. Manila glows with ravishing splendor. This large city which lies before us will perhaps be reduced to ashes by tomorrow together with the glory of those who built it. The Pasig becomes an immense river. The Walled City of Philip II is bathed in a red glow, covering the mass of red roofs down to the foot of the misty hills. The magnificent amphitheater of mountains opens to the voluptuousness of a golden sunset. And below, the somber defenseless walls which surround the city proudly protect their splendid memories at the end of a glorious day.

Six o’clock.

We curse the Americans as well as the Spaniards when we hear the news. We are outraged that this victory could eventually be used against us. . . My instinct tells me what our real interests are in this situation. As it often happens, our opinions serve as the pretext for our sentiments; and the majority of our principles, even the most firm, are the result of our secret emotions.

But I hear someone calling me, and I cast my thoughts aside.