March 27, 2023

The Philippine Revolution and the American Period (1872–1935 CE)

Manila Philippines Map 1
Manila Philippines Map
Manila Philippines seal
Manila Philippines seal
Manila Philippines Coat of Arms
Manila Philippines Coat of Arms
Manila Philippines Flag
Manila Philippines Flag

The Philippine Revolution and the American Period (1872–1935 CE)

Revolutionary movements against Spanish colonization had begun in the 1700s in the Philippines, and it was done mostly through narratives of intellectuals rather than by violence. The growing dissatisfaction with colonial rule arose ironically from the opening of the Suez Canal in the 19th century and a growing and educated middle class of Filipinos who questioned foreign suzerainty. In the late 18th century, revolutionary outbreaks had been quelled by the Spanish (including the Catholic Church) using underhanded tactics such as assassinations. Within the next hundred years, many more revolutionaries emerged, but it was not until 1896 that the extended rule of Spain (for all its benefits and injustices) could be considered to have been brought to an end.

In 1872, the Spanish executed three Filipino Catholic priests under suspicion of being involved in revolutionary activities, although the evidence was weak. These executions by garotte (an archaic mechanism form of strangulation) ignited propaganda movements in Spain by Filipinos abroad. Of the agitators, future national hero (pambansang bayani) José Rizal boldly infuriated the colonial government with the publication of Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not, 1887) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive, 1891). Rizal (1861–1896) was executed in 1896 by the Spanish government at the end of the Philippine Revolution for the role his writings had played in igniting a rebellion, even though he had not been actively involved in any part of the rebel actions and was en route to Cuba at the time.

The revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy (1869–1964) is considered the founder of the Filipino nationalist military rebellion, and under his leadership, his combatants assisted the Americans to remove the Spanish from the capital of Manila in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. From 1898 to 1902, Aguinaldo was considered the first (and youngest) president of an Asian constitutional republic—even though it was technically under the shadow of a change in colonial overlords—that had drawn up its own constitution and assigned high-level positions (technically a political cabinet). Aguinaldo began his military career by joining the Philippine Revolution from 1896 to 1898, which was led by the secret revolutionary organization the Katipunan. The Katipunan was known by many other names and was established by Andrés Bonifacio y de Castro (1863–1897) in the same year that nationalist intellectual, José Rizal, was banished to Mindanao for his political views and proselytizing (in 1892, the same year he returned to his homeland from Spain). The Katipunan employed armed forces rather than reason with the Spanish, as Rizal had attempted. The Philippine Revolution officially began in 1896 when the Spanish government discovered the Katipunan and its revolutionary intentions. The revolution continued for three years and included the replacement of Spanish colonial power by American power. This happened due to the Spanish-American War, which was followed immediately by the Philippine-American War that lasted a further three years, ending in 1902.

Bonifacio is recorded as being a leading member who started the Philippine rebellion against the wishes of other members of the organization, as well as individuals such as Aguinaldo and Rizal. Emilio Jacinto (1875–1899), a close comrade of Bonifacio, was a high-ranking member of the Katipunan and a leading general in the revolution. Once the revolution against Spain occurred, Bonifacio (who fought with his brothers in the rebellion) was eventually executed by his own people under Aguinaldo’s orders for blatantly disobeying the pre-agreed terms of warfare, specifically laying waste to parts of the Philippines and mistreating his own Filipino people and their possessions. Historians are split on whether any of these accusations are true since there is abundant evidence that Aguinaldo was threatened by Bonifacio and was looking for an excuse to punish sedition. (He was not the only general that died unpardonably at the hand of Aguinaldo. Military leader Antonio Luna (1866–1899), who took part in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the Philippine Revolution, was strangely assassinated by his Filipino comrades, allegedly by the orders of Aguinaldo.) Aguinaldo’s decision to execute Bonifacio divided militant loyalties, with certain guerilla soldiers and generals remaining behind Bonifacio’s close comrade, Jacinto, and refusing to pledge allegiance to Aguinaldo. Jacinto died from malaria in Luzon in 1899.

In 1897, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed. This was a truce between the revolutionaries and Spain, and Aguinaldo went into voluntary exile to Hong Kong, only to return one year later with the Americans (who had requested his return and offered him transport) to redeclare revolution under the guise of the Spanish-American War. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was fought over ten weeks in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The battles had been instigated by the Americans’ desire to assist Cuba to gain independence from Spain, and when a US battleship, the USS Maine, mysteriously sank in February 1898 in Havana Harbor, Cuba, from an internal explosion, the Americans felt forced to go to war with Spain. They believed the battleship was blown up by the Spanish without any hard evidence. The major newspapers of the day were quick to jump on this moneymaking opportunity, fanning the flames of war. It is believed the ship actually sank due to a problem with its coal bunker.

The Battle of Manila Bay (or the Battle of Cavite) in May of that same year was the first major engagement of the war and one of the most decisive naval battles in history since it brought an end to European colonial rule in the Philippines. American Commodore George Dewey (1837–1917) is accredited with having lost only one crewman during the battle (apparently from illness, not injuries) and went on to attain the highest rank of Admiral of the Navy—the only person to ever have achieved this rank. His squadron fought against Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón (1839–1917), whose career was ruined by his failure in the battle, even though the Spanish were heavily outmanned and outgunned and were using antiquated, ill-equipped ships.

The Spanish were significantly less prepared and equipped for the battle, and unlike the “miracle” of the Battles of La Naval de Manila against the Dutch in 1646, the Spanish gave in to defeat, even sinking some of their own fleet (a tactic known as scuttling). In the interim, a German fleet arrived at Manila Bay, hoping for the opportunity to ambush Manila after an American defeat and a presumably weakened Spanish Navy. Dewey summarily dispatched the Germans (they left without a fight) as he had done with the Spanish!

Four months later, in August of 1898, the Americans and Spanish secretly met to create the illusion of a battle over Manila, now known as the Mock Battle of Manila. The Westerners’ intentions (knowing that Spain had lost the Spanish-American War) was to get the Americans ensconced in the walled and defended Manila capital, or Intramuros (“within the walls”), without allowing any influx of Filipino revolutionaries or guerilla fighters into the administrative capital. This divisive tactic by the colonizers to exclude Filipino nationalists from an opportunity to take control of their own state laid the foundations for the Philippine-American War, which began the following year in 1899. The period from 1898 to 1901 was one in which the rebels had declared the First Philippine Republic. The date upon which Aguinaldo declared independence, June 12th, 1898, is now the day celebrated by Filipinos as their Independence Day. However, Aguinaldo was considered a Philippine president with a constitution and cabinet, and his government was never formally recognized internationally.

America won the overall Spanish-American War mostly due to their advanced firepower, and Spain surrendered, leading to the Treaty of Paris in 1898, in which America gained territories from Spain, including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines (and temporary control of Cuba). The US paid twenty million dollars to Spain to compensate for their infrastructural investments in the Philippine archipelago. It isn’t clear why the United States was interested in the Philippines except that it was a strategically positioned global location for military and naval warfare. This interest was proved when America assisted the Philippines with a transitional government leading to full independence by 1946 but maintained their military bases on the islands until the early 1990s, only relinquishing them under duress. America’s success in the Spanish-American War established them as the dominant power in the Caribbean and the Pacific, which would prove a decisive positioning for World War II. The United States’ newfound position was not only tactically and politically improved but also economically, as their proximity to Eastern markets increased.

However, before America could take full possession of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo led a war between Filipino nationalists and American forces. Aguinaldo, who had assisted the Americans in taking Manila from the Spanish, had done so under the impression that the US would grant the Filipinos a substantial role in the governance of their islands, if not ultimately outright independence. When the Filipino activists were excluded from occupying the capital in 1898, this insult was the fuel for further Filipino revolutionary action.

The Philippine-American War lasted for three years and resulted in the death of over 4,000 American troops (of the 126,000 American soldiers dispatched) and 20,000 Filipino combatants (of the 80,000 to 100,000 Filipino soldiers). An estimated two hundred thousand to one million Filipino civilians lost their lives to disease (mostly cholera and malaria), famine, and collateral violence during the war. At first, Aguinaldo and his supporters seized control of the main island of Luzon and declared the independent Philippine Republic. When it became clear to the Filipinos that a direct onslaught against the Americans would ultimately end in failure due to the Americans’ superior military training and resources (and refusal to negotiate), Aguinaldo’s troops changed to guerilla warfare, in which they were far more successful. However, the Filipinos’ guerilla tactics could never have created a homogenized and ultimate win because of the practical difficulties of the Philippine terrain and the coordination of disparate troops throughout the archipelago, as well as the lack of foreign support and inaccessibility to resources and weaponry. Aguinaldo was captured in 1901, after which the resistance dissipated. By 1902, the United States had retaken control of Luzon, and US President Theodore Roosevelt (in off. 1901–1909) declared a general amnesty. The new overlords occasionally needed to deal with insurgencies thereafter, but nothing sufficient to destabilize their suzerainty over the Philippines.

In a similar fashion that the Spanish used to regulate the Philippines, by leveraging existing administrative governance infrastructure, the Americans retained the Spanish pueblos (or towns) and other units and renamed them municipalities. The barrios remained as sub-divisions, with a barrio lieutenant in charge of each as the chief administrative officer. The president of the United States at the time, President William McKinley (in off. 1897–1901), specified the United States’ commitment to archipelagic governance: “The establishment of municipal governments in which the natives of the islands, both in the cities and in the rural communities, shall be afforded the opportunity to manage their own local affairs to the fullest extent they are capable.”

However, the commission responsible for the implementation of American governance eventually relapsed into restricting Filipino autonomy. The American interference in local politicking virtually reverted Philippine governance structures to the Maura Law, which was drawn up at the end of Spanish intervention. The Americans’ reasoning for their supervision was purportedly corruption and inefficiency in the ruling Philippine elite classes. The colonial government had the power to intervene in local affairs and overrule any decision taken by Filipino administrators. This American intervention made McKinley’s original statement pointless, as the Americans ruled the Philippines as tightly and intentionally as the Spaniards had done.

The central government remained in Manila. As at the end of the Spanish-led government, the barrios were led by a barrio lieutenant, who was the main representative of municipal government in village life. The lieutenant was appointed by municipal officers but was not paid a salary and had no legal authority. The lieutenant was really a de facto peacekeeper for the Americans, and he was required to relay communications between the villages and their overlords and vice versa. It seems that the villages kept their own internal system of chieftaincy in addition to the colonial municipal system, and a leader in the form of the ancient datu continued to guide village life.

The Americans attempted to institute rural structures of decentralized local governance (local councils) that equated to colonial micro-management of jurisdictions. It could be considered immoral since the local Filipino positions were not paid ones. Unsurprisingly, the rural governance arrangements remained largely unimplemented and were a “paper organization.” During the early turn of the 20th century, when the Americans began exploring and “taming” the Philippines, resident scientists and expatriates often referred to the outlying indigenous tribes as wild and unpredictable. In 1914, US Captain Wilfred Turnbull of the Filipino-American military force was ordered to “reform” the Negrito Agta way of life. The Americans moved 150 Agta families onto a reservation, and these previously semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers were forced into farming. Those men who resisted were chain-ganged together and forced to clear forest land (previously their indigenous hunting grounds) for planting.

However, the Americans were sincere in their desire to eventually deliver an independent Philippines. During the Philippine Revolution that preceded the Spanish-American War, as well as over the next few years until the end of the Philippine-American War, the Americans launched a pacification campaign known as the policy of attraction. It aimed to make alliances with Filipino elites who were not necessarily supporters of Aguinaldo and his bloody, revolutionary tactics. The policy sought a long-term solution to empowering the Filipinos, enabling self-government, and building economic development and social reforms. Over time, this program gained support and ultimately undermined Aguinaldo’s efforts to take the Philippines by force. When the Filipinos lost their rebellion against the United States in 1902, the Westerners set up an insular government to replace the military government that had been in place. The insular government was part of a larger organic mechanism through which the United States governed the civil aspects of their overseas territories. The structure was a form of an interim government that aimed to tutor local administrators to eventually control their own independent government. (The governing laws, the Philippine Organic Act, established Filipinos as sovereign citizens of their own state for the first time in history.)

The US remained true to its promises, and in 1907, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, with the Jones Act of 1916 assuring future national independence. The Jones Act replaced previous US laws for the Philippines and included a constitution as well as a provision for the first Philippine elected legislature. Like Spanish rule, the American era had successes and failures and times of peace as well as minor uprisings. Socio-economic conditions were strong, and trade was booming. English became the lingua franca of the islands. In 1907, the first political party of the Philippines was formed, the Nacionalista Party (which was for immediate nationalization), but its members retained a good relationship with the Americans. The archipelago officially became a member of the American Commonwealth in 1935 and held its first democratic election. The new government included the new Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, and the date of July 4th was established as Independence Day.

Emilio Aguinaldo lost the presidency to Nacionalista member Manuel Luis Quezon y Molina (1878–1944), who remained in office until his death. Quezon died in exile in the United States from tuberculosis. He had been forced to leave the Philippines during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War. Aguinaldo is, nevertheless, heralded as a national hero of the Philippines, and his crest of a yellow sun on a white background remains part of the Philippine flag. The date for total and final independence of the isles happened in 1946.

Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon was considered an exemplary president, as he was focused on social justice and inequality and built a national culture. He is attributed with saving more than a thousand Jewish people from Nazi Germany and resettling them into the Philippines in the Marikina Valley of the Manila Metropolitan Area. After the outbreak of World War II in 1938, the Philippines became directly involved when Japan invaded the islands in 1941. The Second Philippine Republic was created as a puppet state under Japanese suzerainty in 1943, which lasted for two years until the Japanese surrender in 1945 at the end of World War II.



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