Back to Article List

PROF. BERNARDITA REYES CHURCHILL

       The Philippine-American War (1899-1902) is referred to as the second phase of the Philippine Revolution. This period actually began after Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines from Hong Kong on may 19, 1898, on board an American cutter from the fleet of Admiral George Dewey, who on May 1, 1898, had defeated the Spanish forces in the Battle of Manila Bay. The United States had declared war on Spain (over Cuba) in April 1898 and Dewey was sent to Manila to destroy the Spanish navy. The initial enthusiasm for American support of the Revolution against Spain turned increasingly sour as the Filipino revolutionaries became convinced that the United States was preparing to take over sovereignty over the Philippines from Spain.

       To pre-empt American designs on the Philippines, Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain and raised the Philippine flag on June 12, 1898, at Kawit, Cavite; then he proceeded to organize his revolutionary government (by Decree of June 23, 1898), while pressing on the Spaniards in Manila to surrender to the Filipino revolutionaries. He also sent his men to organize resistance throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

       Thus, while the Filipino revolutionaries practically succeeded in ending Spanish rule in the Philippines, they had to contend with the American occupation forces who were   determined to take over positions in Manila and elsewhere in the archipelago, including Spanish positions that had fallen into the hands of the revolutionary forces. American expeditionary forces arrived in Manila beginning in June and July 1898. Manila was surrendered to the American forces by the Spaniards on August 13, 1898, after a token “battle” (a day after the Protocol of Peace of Peace was signed between Spain and the United States). The Treaty of Paris was concluded between Spain and the United States on December 10, 1898 (without Filipino representation). And on December 21, 1898, President William McKinley issued his “Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation”, which declared that US would assume control and disposition of the government of the Philippines and instructed American military commanders to extend American sovereignty over the entire country, this before the Treaty of Paris was ratified by the US, which it did on February 6, 1899, two days after the outbreak of hostilities between the Filipino revolutionaries and the American military forces.

       By the time the Filipinos and Americans faced each other in battle on February 4, 1899, the Filipino revolutionists had declared Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, had convened a revolutionary constitutional congress to draft a constitution for a Philippine Republic on September 15, 1898, and had inaugurated the First Philippine Republic at Malolos on January 23, 1899.

       The Republic did not survive. Less than two weeks after it was inaugurated, armed hostilities broke out between the Filipino revolutionaries and the American military. In the face of American military successes, Aguinaldo ordered his troops to shift to guerilla warfare beginning in November 1899. Aguinaldo retreated from one provincial capital to another as the American military pursued him and engaged his revolutionary army in battle. In the meantime,  conservative Manila ilustrados in the Malolos Republic eager for American protection in exchange for immediate peace and order and internal autonomy (which US offered to them), abandoned the Revolution. Finally, on March 23, 1901, Aguinaldo was captured in the mountain regions of Palanan, Isabela, and on April 1, he took his oath of allegiance to the United States.

       It took the United States Army three years to suppress the Revolution in the Philippines, much longer than American commanders in the field had expected and at great cost on lives and resources. It took even longer (until 1913) to establish peace and order in Mindanao and Sulu. Samar and Batangas proved the most tenacious in their resistance to American rule, and also showed in dark colors the brutality that war breeds in men, regardless of race.

       In the midst of all these activities, the United States Army in the Philippines engaged in the pacification of the Filipino revolutionists, alternating between what one American scholar calls “the carrot of benevolence and the stick of military force”. The vigor of Filipino resistance to American pacification efforts differed in different regions, reflective of Filipino committment to the Malolos Republic and the Revolution. Some Filipino rebel leaders and the populace accepted more readily than others the inevitability of American rule and decided to cooperate to end the War. It is, therefore, not authentic to describe only one kind of Filipino response to American military efforts or only one American strategy of pacification of a guerilla war (such analyses dwelt mostly on the atrocities committed by both sides, of which, indeed, there were many). Numerous studies have been presented lately that reinforce the view that US  engaged in the War vigorously in view of strong resistance from the local revolutionary leaders and the attendant breakdown in law and order. This, while it implemented non-military pacification policies in relation to how the US planned on administering a civil government once established in the Philippines.  

       Civil government was established in the pacified provinces on July 4, 1901. Civil government throughout the Philippines was established on July 4, 1902 despite the continuation of “seditious” activities by groups, which the American authorities labeled as brigands or ladrones. There was a resurgence of the Katipunan movement in some areas. Macario Sakay continued the resistance, establishing the “Supreme Government of the Tagalog Archipelago”, and his guerilla force engaged the American troops for four years (from 1902-1906) in the mountains of southern Luzon. Post-revolutionary peasant movements, religious and millenarian in character, also kept the resistance alive, disillusioned after the heightened expectations that a change in leadership (from Spanish to American and Filipino) would fulfill their longing for kalayaan from the tax burdens, forced labor, and abuses they had endured under  the Spanish regime. These movements resurfaced under different forms in twentieth century agrarian protests and is one interesting dimension of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines that needs further study.

       It is probably important to mention that one of the tangible results of the Philippine Revolution is the alienation of a segment of Filipino Catholics who established a Filipino National Church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, independent from the Church in Rome.

About the Author:
Bernardita Reyes Churchill is a Professorial Lecturer at the Department of History of the University of the Philippines, Diliman and at the Department of International Studies, La Salle University, Manila.