Updated: Aug 7, 2022
Created to commemorate the "victorious acts of courage from the campaigns in Mindanao," the medal issued by Royal Decree on October 7, 1895, remains one of the most sought-after Spanish-Philippine medals for any collector. Initially, I thought it would be easy to get the medal, but most of what I had seen where not in good condition, and to a collector like myself, I've always emphasized that condition is key. Unfortunately, most of what is available on the market are either severely corroded or has its plating peeling off. At the same time, other medals are taken out from the protective outer "ring" attached to the loop, which is a significant part of the medal. That is why it would be challenging to find one complete with the right ribbon and hopefully some "pins" for a comprehensive presentation.
Furthermore, after seeing numerous Facebook posts about the medal over the past 2 years, I knew I had to make sure it would become part of my medal collection. Little did I know that it would take almost a year from the time I last saw one posted or featured on Facebook that I would be able to acquire the medal, and it traveled around the world amidst the Covid pandemic and lockdowns. And, just like any other medal I acquired, I felt the need to understand its history and significance to our history. So, let's begin with the dates on the medal's reverse.
On the middle of the medal's reverse side, right smack, are two sets of years: 1890-1891 and 1894-1895. When I saw the medal, I wondered what these two sets of years meant. Apparently, they pertain to two sets of campaigns by the Spanish in trying to conquer Mindanao. The Welyer Campaign lasted from 1890 to 1891, and the Blanco Campaign started in 1894 and ended a year later.
General Valeriano Weyler (1838-1930) was a bemedalled Spanish general born in Palma de Mallorca. He had initially served in Cuba as a lieutenant and rose to become a General in 1878.
He gained a notorious reputation as the "Butcher of Cuba." He became Governor-General of the Philippines in 1890 when Rizal had just published the Noli 3 years earlier. Against this backdrop, Weyler gave the order to arrest anyone caught with a copy of the Noli. As he focused his leadership on Mindanao, he first sought to end the "pacifying policy" of his predecessor, Gen. Emiliano Terrero, and defeat the rebellious Datus of Mindanao by military means. Especially in the Rio Grande de Mindanao area, also known as the Mindanao river and the Lanao lagoon. The prominent character was Datu Uto, also known as Sultan Utto Anwarduddin, the 18th Sultan of Buayan, one of the minor sultanates of Mindanao, and one who had distinguished himself in many battles against the Spanish. Datu Uto had gradually become the most powerful thief in the area. After putting down the revolt in the Caroline Islands in 1891, Weyler resumed actions in Mindanao by distributing arms among the settlers. His primary focus was to defeat the powerful chief. He also issued a decree organizing an armed citizen militia in the Misamis and Dapitan districts. Finally, with his Military brilliance, he attacked and destroyed the rancheria de Marawi on Lake Lanao. However, he never really defeated the powerful chief, and it also turns out that the result of this victory would be a repeat of previous victory patterns around the Philippines, where Spain, reeling from its economic hurdles at home, could not send more troops and resources to consolidate the Marawi stronghold, only for it to be rebuilt by the Muslims and allowed them to regain control.
Weyler's most ambitious move was to encourage settlements to be established near the Spanish ports that were set up because of this military victory. In addition, he had authorized soldiers to settle with their families, providing them with farmland after graduating from the army. All this with the intention that the soldiers would eventually stay in these territories to form the Spanish populations and settlement base, just like what was established in Luzon and the Visayas. But all of Weyler's plans did not come to fruition. No reinforcements came from Spain to help consolidate the area, plus he did not manage to attract the migratory flow that his colonization plan required, and, because of this, he resigned.
Weyler was replaced by General Eulogio Despujol, who did not last very long as Governor-General. He aroused the wrath of the religious orders, which are said to have pushed for his dismissal. He lasted only two years, from 1891-1892. He was replaced by Gen. Ramon Blanco,
who came when so many events were happening in the Philippines. In 1893, Blanco became Governor-General at a time when electricity had finally arrived in Manila. Blanco also opened the first Exposicion Regional de Filipinas (Philippine Exposition) two years later, which lasted until July 19, 1895. This Exposition was held at a specially built exhibition hall in Ermita, Manila . The exposition attracted 1,950 exhibitors from the Philippines, China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam; during this exposition, Blanco announced that a great future is predestined for the whole archipelago, despite coming on the heels of an insurrection by the Filipinos who sought independence and was led by the Katipunan. Around the same time, Blanco tried to recapture the Lake Lanao region, which had become the stronghold of the Muslims in Mindanao. He had deployed 3,000 to 5,000 men, all of them battalions of hunters and marines, since most of the soldiers were engaged in the Cuban campaign. Yet, the Spanish would come back to conquer the Fort at Marawi, the same fort that Weyler had destroyed three years earlier but abandoned given the lack of support from Spain and rebuilt by the Muslims. The famous Marano hero, Datu Amai Pakpak, and his 23 sons and 23 other datus were killed. Despite this victory, the Spanish were still unable to capture Mindanao as their proven "Cross and Sword" strategy, which proved very successful in Luzon, and the Visayas but was an utter failure in Mindanao as it failed to convert the Muslims. Instead, they tried to use diplomatic policy -- Blanco had no choice but to recognize the authority of the local leaders and give respect to the Islamic region and local custom.
In my opinion, the medal that was issued to commemorate this campaign is one of the more beautiful medals issued by Spain despite its simplicity. The obverse had the image of the mother
and son, the young King Alfonso XIII, and Maria Cristina, the regent, and widow of Alfonso XII, who was known as El Pacificador or the Peacemaker. It is similar to the busts of the medal issued to commemorate the 1895 Exposicion Regional de Filipinas, whose design was made by our very own Melecio Figueroa Could it be that Figueroa based his obverse design on the Campagna de Mindanao design, or did he design the Mindanao medal as well. Nothing is mentioned about the designer of the Mindanao medal, only that it was manufactured by the medal engravers in Spain, namely Castells, Pastells and the House of Medina There is also no signature of any engraver present on any part of the medal. But the obverse of both medals draws very distinct similarities in the way to the young King and his regent mother as portrayed. Surrounding these busts is the inscription "CAMPANAS DE MINDANAO" (The Campaign in Mindanao) in raised letters as both busts face right. A common mistake is to assume the bust of Alfonso XIII belongs to a little girl, as he looks to be dressed in traditional attire reserved for young girls The medal measured 32mm in diameter, which is a
bit small for a campaign that was so important to the Spanish as they have been trying to conquer the Muslims of Mindanao since the early 17th century. Furthermore, the participants in the campaign who were eligible for the medal were those of the Army, Navy, and the Volunteers, which makes this one of the more widely issued medals given out by Spain. However, one requirement is participation in fighting for at least one month unless they were wounded in battle. However, it is essential to remember that the issuance of a medal conferred upon a participant had to have the necessary papers given by the Spanish government during these times. These papers would provide them with the "right to purchase" the said medals from one of many medal makers in Spain, and, given that these Mindanao Campaigns did not end positively for the Spanish, I've always wondered how many of the recipients of these "medal papers" actually went out to purchase the medals. In addition, the award came with "pins" indicating the year of their participation, whether during the Weyler Campaign or the Blanco Campaign. This particular pin was awarded for the Blanco Campaign, and according to some medal dealers in Spain, one seldom sees pins for both campaigns awarded to one participant. On the reverse, the medal had two branches -- one palm and one
laurel forming what seems like a wreath and inside this wreath are the years indicated above. According to both Reynolds and Belles, the correct ribbon for the medal is the green and yellow ribbon, with known manufacturers mentioned above: Castells, Pastells, and Casa Medina.
According to some Spanish sources, specifically the Casa Medina catalog from the book of Belles, the medal came in different variants, all surrounded by a metal ring that was either silver, gilt, or gold. In addition, there was copper in a gilt metal ring sold for 8 pesetas, a second medal in copper and gold ring at 58 pesetas, and, finally, the brass at 6 pesetas was supposedly reserved for troops. These catalog listings make me wonder where the medal I acquired from a dealer in Spain made out of iron with a silver ring came from; or who it was reserved for.
A closer look at the reverse indicates that the medal may have been manufactured by "Pastells."
Although the manufacturer's signature on the lower left-hand side of the reverse of the iron variant may have corroded over time, it looks like a "Pastells" variant, while Castells engraved the medal made in brass/gold. Whoever the maker is, the look of an "ironish" or silver-looking medal side-by-side with its brass counterpart does make for a good presentation.
Recently I discovered by accident another variant of the medal. This particular variant, which I will call Type III came with an iron metal with a gilt ring combination and has a much wider diameter at 35mm compared to the earlier two variants, Type I (for the brass with gold ring) and Type II (for the iron (silver?) with silver ring), both measuring 32mm in diameter.
The obverse of this medal variant (Type III) also shows a slight difference from the first two variants (or Types). The font used for the "CAMPANAS DE MINDANAO" is a thin Arial-type of font, while Type I and Type II both have the same fatter and wider font. Both the design of Type I and II busts look very much identical, including Alfonso's sleeve. Even the reverse of these two variants' medals is very similar to the design of the branches of the wreaths. This leads me to conclude that Type I and II may have inspired each other's die; given the very close similarities down to the details of the design.
A closer look at the obverse of the Type III variant shows that the bust, in relation to the size of the medal is smaller and their designs are very much different. It even looks like the busts are those of two different people as compared to Type I and II's busts and not that of the Regent Mother and the young King. Plus, the headband used by Maria Cristina on Type III has two "beaded bands" going over her hair as compared to the first two medals. The reverse of the medal shows even more obvious differences. For one, the branches of the wreath do not have a ribbon at the point of intersection. Making it a simpler and less "busy" design than the other two. The font of the dates presented is also wider, much like the "Century Gothic" font compared to the Arial font of Type I and II. Also, Type III does not have the signature of the medal manufacturer, unlike the first two variants. I guess that's the beauty about collecting Spanish-Philippine or pre-1900 medals, new variants pop up, and the host of variants may never end.
Onofre Corpuz, in his book "Saga and Triumph: The Filipino Revolution Against Spain," mentioned that it was hubris that led the Spaniards to claim Muslim Mindanao and Sulu as part of Filipinas, although Spanish sovereignty was never effective there as the Muslims in Mindanao were very true to their faith and did not allow themselves to be swayed, much more be conquered by the visitors from Spain. The Campaigns in Mindanao symbolized staggering defeats over a period when Spain was beginning to lose control of the Philippines as the call for independence all around the Philippines was spreading like a wildfire. It was a time when the words of Rizal's Noli and Fili began to spread over much of the Philippines, specifically in Luzon. The Filipino was waking up to the calls for independence, and their ideals had transformed from reformism to radicalism and then finally to calls for a revolution. This was when the cast of characters of the Philippine Revolution had reached the age of majority, as most of them were very young when the Cavite Mutiny happened 23 years earlier, which many believed may have been the impetus of the Philippine uprising. Thus, the Mindanao Campaigns were considered icing on the cake for the Filipinos in their quest for Independence from Spain. Spain had been trying to colonize Mindanao, but Muslim Mindanao did not allow this to happen. This medal symbolized Spain's defeats at the hands of our Muslim brothers in the South. It represented 333 years of Spanish-Moro conflict that never ended well for Spain. I guess this failure of Spain makes holding or being awarded this medal awkward, as it symbolized defeat and the continued beating at the hands of Muslim Mindanao. This is probably why the medal is hard to come by in good condition. I would assume that not many participants who were awarded the medal never really claimed their medals or cherished and took care of them, which translated to fewer medals in the marketplace, making them scarce. I guess luck was on my side when I acquired these three medals from a collector's perspective.
REFERENCES AND ONLINE SOURCES:
Belles, Antonio Rodriguez, SPANISH MILITARY CAMPAIGN ORDERS AND MEDALS: PHILIPPINE & CUBA - 1814-1898 2nd Edition, Spain 2019
Reynolds, Robert H., PHILIPPINE MEDALS: MONOGRAPH NO. 12, OMSA Publications, USA, 1998
Gaceta de Madrid - https://www.boe.es/datos/pdfs/BOE//1895/285/A00131-00131.pdf
Corpuz, Onofre D., "SAGA AND TRIUMPH: THE FILIPINO REVOLUTION AGAINST SPAIN," The Philippine Centennial Commission, Manila 1999