City of Manila,  San Juan

commemorating the first shot of the Philippine-American war

At this time, we marked the 111th anniversary of the outbreak of the Filipino-American war, part of a chain of events that began way before of how we ended up being screwed by the Americans who were in the processing of building their own colonial empire and became their “little brown American brothers” regardless of the positives and negatives that were borne out of these events.

For those who at least still remember those lessons in Philippine history way before, we were told that the Filipino-American war began on February 4, 1899 when an American soldier named Willie Grayson fired that first shot. Depending on which book you read, Grayson either shot a Filipino soldier who violated the demarcation and crossed American lines at the San Juan bridge which at that time served as the boundary of the areas under American and Filipino control or one from his command (did not specifically state if it was Grayson himself or someone else) fired the shot in retaliation to opposition by Filipino soldiers because Grayson’s command violated the demarcation.

And for a long while, the San Juan Bridge (which was also known as the Tulay ng Balsahan) was the accepted site where it happened.

an old image of San Juan Bridge (courtesy Philippine American war by Arnaldo Dumindin)

|Then, almost 10 years ago, research done by Benito Legarda, the former head of the Philippine National Historical Institute (NHI) showed that the actual site where the event took place was actually in an area called Blockhouse 7 which marked the boundary between Manila and Barrio Santol in what is now Quezon City. To be specific, it was at the corner of what we now know as the streets of Sociego and Silencio in Sampaloc/Santa Mesa district. (it could go either way as far as the address is concerned though technically the site is in Sampaloc)

So in 2003, the NHI decreed officially that the first shot of the war happened in the vicinity of the former Blockhouse 7, prompting not only another change in our history books but also moving the marker commemorating the first shot of the Philippine American War to this quiet corner of Sociego and Silencio. (quite coincidental too that Sociego’s name comes from the Spanish word which means tranquility and Silencio’s from another Spanish word which means…you guessed it, silence)

the site of old Blockhouse 7

This has naturally stirred protests from some quarters in San Juan as it has lost a part of its own history with this move by the NHI. Nevertheless, the NHI stood pat on its findings and San Juan Bridge lost a marker…until recently.

Now San Juan Bridge has a new marker courtesy of the NHI, which puts the bridge back on the pages of history again. (or it could also be taken as NHI’s “consuelo” gift for having lost the old marker of the first shot) Unfortunately the paint on the marker’s lettering was worn off when I took this:

the new marker at San Juan Bridge

But basically the marker states that it was on that bridge on January 29, 1899 where the Filipino and American forces drew up the agreed demarcation line between the two forces which was to be violated less than a week later. It also adds another piece of tidbit that a battle between Filipino and American forces happened on the bridge on February 5, 1899, a day after the firing of the first shot.

Given the confusing and sometimes conflicting nature our history has been suffering under for quite sometime, I’m afraid it will not be the last we will hear of stories of moved markers and history being told as more confusing than before.

credits: Inquirer, Aguinaldo: dubious hero? blog, Philippine American war by Arnaldo Dumindin

© The Urban Roamer


  • perla fontilla

    Are you guys sure of your map as to the location of San Juan bridge? You placed San Juan Bridge at the end of Araneta ave after SM Centerpoint.

    I may be old, but San Juan Bridge starts where Old Sta Mesa street ends and N. Domingo street begins. Am I lost?

    • urban roamer – I have nothing much to say, I'm the quiet one...which may be why I wander, write, take photographs, and get into social media too much

      urban roamer

      sorry if the marking was not clear, but I did identify the San Juan Bridge as the one connecting N. Domingo and Old Sta. Mesa

  • happy man

    I thought the name of the person who fired the first shot was Robert Grayson

    and he wasn’t an american soldier, he was british according to my History teacher, the britich ssoldiers were helping the americans at that time and they sent Robert Grayson cause he was a good sniper 🙂

    • urban roamer – I have nothing much to say, I'm the quiet one...which may be why I wander, write, take photographs, and get into social media too much

      urban roamer

      Willie was Grayson’s nickname, but yes his real name is Robert Grayson. but him being a British soldier is something I never heard before. I’m not much of a historian but I haven’t read any books that support what history teacher has said. would you know what was/were the source/s of your teacher’s claims if I may ask?

      • Tom Matic IV

        Re Happy Man and Urban Roamer – Pvt Willie Grayson was born in England but his family (like many many other Anglo-European families of the time) emigrated to the United States when he was very young. He answered the call to arms, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain” and joined the 1st Nebraska Vols under Col John Stotsenberg. He was never a British soldier and certainly never a notable sniper. Some measure of revenge was had when Colonel Stotsenberg was shot and killed while leading the Nebraskans against General Gregorio del Pilar’s forces at Quingua in the middle of 1899.

        The British never declared war or sent any forces to the Philippines but the British did want the Americans to “take up the White Man’s Burden” (as the British Poet Laureate Rudyard Kipling so eloquently put it) and benevolently colonize the “half devil and half child” Filipinos, almost certainly to prevent the Germans from taking the colony. A German controlled Philippines would have cut the British Empire’s sea lanes between their “Jewel in the Crown”, India, British Dominions across the Pacific, notably Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The generally Anglophilic Americans were a vastly preferable colonizer to the rival and increasingly hostile Germans, while for their part, the German Empire would have greatly benefitted from taking the Philippines as their only major colonial possession in Asia was Tsingtao in northern China isolated by the massive Russian and Japanese empires.

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