This poster is from the 1945 Spanish movie Los Ultimos de Filipinas, remade in 2016. about the last Spanish hold-out in the Philippines in Baler, now in Quezon Province. A company of Spanish soldiers was held under siege in the town church from July 1898 to June 1899. They did not know it, but it was the final stand of the once great Spanish Empire. But today I’ll tell to of unsung Spanish hero who was Spain’s last man to resist American control in Manila.
Chances are, you’ve never heard of him. Nobody remembers the last Spaniard to surrender in Manila, who made his stand in the aduana, the Customs House, and his story did not appear in official reports until 1901.
I think he deserves his day of glory so let’s give it to him.
Quick recap: Commodore Dewey sank the Spanish Fleet 0in the Battle of Canacao Bay on 1 May 1898. Manila was under siege by Philippine Republican forces on the land side and the US Asiatic Fleet blockaded the city from seaward. I’m not going into the ins and outs of what happened over the next six weeks but by the end of it, the Spaniards had agreed to surrender to Dewey so long as they could have a battle first, for the sake of honor.
The battle of Manila is sometimes called a fake battle but people did get killed and injured so it was more like a World Wrestling Foundation bout where the outcome is pre-determined. Neither side knew that hostilities in the Spanish-American War had formally ceased and wouldn’t know for about another ten days.
But the battle meant Spanish honor had been upheld.
American forces proceeded to take over the arms of government and all went well until, on 18 August, they marched into the Customs House and came face to face with Don Veremundo Ruíz de Galarreta, the elderly administrator of the Aduana. Sadly we can’t find a photo of him.
He was not a happy man. According to Spanish accounts American soldiers had raided the bonded warehouse at the Aduana and made off with booze being held for businesses in Manila.
Don Veremundo was a relative newcomer to Manila. A Basque parliamentarian, he had served in the Spanish Cortes as a deputy for Navarre, from the liberal wing , served as Governor of several Spanish territories, including Puerto Principe in Cuba, and on 29 January 1898 was appointed head of the Aduana by Queen Cristina of Spain.
Nobody had consulted him about surrendering his post to the Americans. He was a little old man grown gray in the service of Spain’s ultramar. As far as he was concerned Spanish authorities in Manila had no power to surrender him or his office to the Americans because he had been appointed by the Queen..
It would have been a different matter if he’s been besieged, undermined and taken by assault, he told the Americans, but that had not happened and he was not going to give up unless faced by a superior force and then only after giving as much resistance as was appropriate to his means.
The Americans explained that he’d been overlooked it all the bustle of overcoming Spanish military forces and had they known his attitude they would have happily taken him at bayonet point. Despite their pleading to avoid further expensive military operations, Don Veremundo stood his ground like a Don Quixote without his Sancho Panza.
Major General Greene, then commanding the US military in Manila, gave orders for the Deputy Provost Marshal to rustle up a squad of men and send them to the Aduana. Faced with this overwhelming superior armed force, Don Veremundo Ruíz de Galarreta’s honour was satisfied, he surrendered his post and retired, taking his entire staff with him, loudly protesting in the florid Spanish manner as he wen0000t.
From then on, Don Veremundo Ruíz de Galarreta became invisible to history. Until now.
So, Here’s a toast to Don Veremundo, the last man standing in Manila.