An Unsung Hero: The Last Spaniard To Surrender In Manila

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At 4am on the morning of 13 August 1898 Spain and the United States signed a Protocol of Peace, which brought Spanish-American War hostilities to an end. However, negotiations had been ongoing in Manila for the surrender of Manila to the US for several days which resulted in an agreement to put up a show battle, with the Spanish forces quickly surrendering and handing the city over.

One man alone held firmly to his post and refused to recognise the surrender: Veremundo Ruiz de Galaretta, a name almost lost to history.

I think he deserves his day of glory so let’s give it to him. 

American forces proceeded to take over the arms of government and all went well until, on 18 August, Major-General Greene marched into the Customs House and came face to face with Don Veremundo Ruíz de Galarreta, the elderly administrator of the Aduana. Greene passed on verbal orders from General Merritt to surrender his post.

Ruiz de Galaretta was a Basque from Estella in Navarre. He was a liberal politician who had played important roles in Spain which included being a member of the Spanish Cortes. He was relatively new to Manila, having been appointed by the Queen Regent Christina, to a sinecure position as head of the Manila Customs House.

Nobody had consulted him about surrendering his post to the 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 and wrote a protest to Merritt and Greene went away.

Ruiz de Galeretta then sought out the Spanish now-former Governor General, Jaudenes and told him of his plight. Jaudenes shrugged, he could do nothing, he was a prisoner ofwar, and did not want to hear about Ruiz de Galaretta’s problems.

Net he went to the Spanish head of the treasury who told him that if Jaudenes could do nothing then how could he?

Depressed, Ruiz de Galaretta returned to the Customs House.

Meanhile, 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 went.

It was not much of a victory for the Americans. They had no-one who could run the Customs House, despite someone having the foresight to send a customs tariff and regulations from Washington. They had to hire previous Spanish-era Customs workers at much higher salaries and it wasn’t until almost the end of 1898 that matters got remotely working. The ancient Spanish administrator of the Customs House had his revenge.

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.

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