The Rizal Photo Fraud That Wasn’t

ctual Some years ago a writer called Pio Andrade proposed that the well-known photograph of Rizal’s execution was a fraud staged by the Americans or possibly a still from a long-lost 1912 film. He identified what he claimed were anomalies, one of which he claims surprised a professional photographer at MOWELFUND, the Philippines movieworkers welfare fund. He reproduced a number of images to support his claim but there was one image he had never seen:

An actual print of the Rizal execution photograph. A photograph which had been on display in Manila before he came up with his theory.

After the initial publication of his claim in the Philippine Inquirer newspaper, Andrade chose not to address the problems with his claims and did not respond to invitations to do so, including personal ones from me. Mr. Andrade is now dead but his legacy lingers on in the conspiracy theory end of Philippine historiography, with frequent outings on discussion fora and websites.

As we shall see, Mr. Andrade’s claims are the result of inadequate research with a heavy dose of confirmation bias. In other words, a good example of how not to research history.

Let me say that I am not proposing that Mr. Andrade deliberately and knowingly defrauded the Filipino people, only that he let his own enthusiasm and nationalism made him make statements and conclusions that were beyond his competency to make.

To be continued.




Mr. Taft’s Carabao

Most of us who delve into Philippine history are familiar with the 1914 photograph of William Howard Taft astride a carabao. The main thing to know about this photograph is that it is a hoax. Taft was never photographed on a carabao.

Yes, it is a fraud of a type as common then as Photoshopping is today.

Even Philippine historians have been fooled by it, and so was I until I came across a comparison and overlay of this photograph and another of Taft on a horse. Hence it earns its place in this selection of frauds and fallacies in Philippine history.

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The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Eight: After The Ball

Manila Fire Department, 22 January 1909

After The Ball

Like tantalising glimpses of spoor through the foliage, documentary reports of Johnson appear and disappear over the next ten years, from late 1899 to 1909. He never returned to Hawaii. At some stage, his wife and daughter seem to have rejoined him from Shanghai, returning to the US after his death.

By 1901 he had a stake in the Alhambra saloon and theatre on the Escolta, and travelled as far away as Australia to look for acts to fill its stage, something similar to what he had done at the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai. At one stage the Alhambra was earning as much as $700 a night, a hefty sum for the times.

He did return to Canada with his wife to celebrate his parents Golden Wedding anniversary in 1908 at Lake Annis, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, still using his Philippine rank of Colonel.

Johnson was deputy fire-chief in the Manila Fire Department and his photograph appears in a 1909 souvenir program for a firemens’ relief brochure.

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The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Seven

Hawaiian Gazette 1898 reports Johnson at the celebrations.

There is no mention in Johnson’s account of the 12 June signing of the Declaration of Independence but his presence was reported by a San Francisco Chronicle correspondent, reprinted in a Hawaii newspaper”

“Leading natives made patriotic speeches, the Insurgent flag was cheered and Aguinaldo’s only regimental band played martial music. The reading of the proclamation declaring the Philippines to be free from Spanish tyranny was greeted with wild cheering. The strange battle-cry of the rebels rang out above the din and the truest enthusiasm was general.

The last speech of the day was made by Colonel L. M. Johnson, Chief of Ordnance on the staff of Agulnaldo, who is an American. He first declined to make a speech, but was carried to the platform. He likened the cause of the Filipinos to that of the American colonies in 1776, and said their liberation was as certain. When his stirring sentences were interpreted to the pleased crowd the cheering was louder than ever.”

Johnson’s service to Aguinaldo would explain why he was given the honour of being a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. By the time Johnson wrote his account the relations between Aguinaldo and the Americans was collapsing. Then, in early December, Johnson hit the Hawaii press headlines again, for a different reason:

His loyalty to the US, which formally annexed Hawaii during the Spanish-American War, was in question, and he had more to lose than his liberty.

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The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Six

We are researching this photograph, from the website. The caption says: “Filipino soldiers, their artillery and 2 Americans in Malate district, Manila. Photo was taken on July 1, 1898.” It matches when LM Johnson was serving as an artillery officer under Aguinaldo.

The Bloody ‘Mock’ Battle of Manila

“The next morning we marched on Bakor, which fell after two days’ fighting, and from there on for nearly three weeks It was marching and fighting day and night, until we had captured or driven all the Spaniards front Bakor, Polverine, Zapote, Las Pinas, Paranaque, Pasay and Tambo. Spanish loss 750 killed, 900 wounded and 1,500 taken prisoners to Cavite. We also captured four field pieces (Krupp) small amount of ammunition, nearly 2,000 rifles (Mauser) and Spanish Remingtons, with 500,000 rounds of cartridges. We were thus enabled to equip more of our men, who hitherto had been fighting with the Bola, which is a large- knife somewhat after the style of the Cuban machette, and a very ugly weapon at close quarters.

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The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Five

Fighting for Aguinaldo

HMS Immortalité, to which the British consul took Johnson and his family.

“You can readily Imagine that after May 1st, Manila was not the most comfortable place in the world for an American. Our house wits constantly watched, but we were not openly abused.

“May 20th, the English Consul, Mr. Rawson-Walker, arranged to take us aboard of the Immortalité. we packed a few things in a hand bag, and taking a closed carriage were soon safely on board the English launch. A half-hour’s run brought us to the Immortalité, and we were kindly received by Capt. Chichester, who offered his launch to take us to the Baltimore, where the United theism Consul, Williams, received us, and then passed us on to the transport Zaifro. We were there made comfortable in her fine saloon. A little later Admiral Dewey sent a launch with a message that he would be pleased to see me on board the flag ship Olympia. I immediately complied with his request. He tendered me very cordial reception and wished to know the state of affairs in Manila. I gave him all the

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The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Four

Watching the Ships Burn

In early 1898 Johnson was preparing to leave Manila for Paris and was waiting for his wife to recover from the birth of their daughter, Marcella Carmencita Johnson, on 10th April 1898, by the end of that year he had become chief of staff of Emilio Aguinaldo, raised to the rank of Colonel, trained Philippine forces in artillery, and taken part in the fighting against the Spanish. Two friends in Hawaii persuaded him to write an account of his experiences. Sadly, at least for now, the photographs that accompanied his letter have yet to surface.

The letter was written while the Malolos National Assembly meeting was underway, having started in mid-September and disbanded in mid-November and after the Paris Treaty negotiations had begun on 1 October that year so it was most likely written during October.

“You wished to know how I fated in Manila after the U. S. Consul and all Americans with the exception of Mrs. Johnson and myself had left the city.

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