By Anthony Divinagracia
JUNE 12, 2019 – Imagine a child wanting to leave an estranged parent after 333 years of co-existence. Yet even before he could do that, the parent makes a last-ditch effort to stifle that long-overdue pitch for independence.
Mother Spain, crippled by geopolitical pressure and domestic infighting toward the end of the 19th century, handed a young, revolting Philippines to Father America for $20 million. Call that imperial-style bad parenting. But analogies can only go so far. For most students of history and politics, the event that saw Spain cede the country to the United States during the infamous Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, was simply high-end horse-trading among fading and emerging world powers at the time.
This is the story of the Philippines after June 12, 1898.
Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamation of Philippine independence in that momentous day was only the opening act of another dramatic struggle for freedom and self-determination against the stage-managed intrusion by the United States. The Filipino people resisted the colonial overtures of the Americans but the interlopers dismissed merely as an “insurrection” to underscore its authority over the country which has already liberated itself from Spanish yoke and decreed sovereignty over the islands. In his book on Aguinaldo, French journalist Henri Turot noted how American officials in Hong Kong shrewdly double-talked their way to assure the exiled Filipino general in Hong Kong that Philippine independence will be proclaimed, with the United States role-playing as “protector” of the islands. This was expressly stated in the Philippines’ Act of Declaration of Independence.
“And having as witness to the rectitude of our intentions the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and under the protection of our Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, The United States of America, we do hereby proclaim and declare solemnly in the name by authority of the people of these Philippine Islands,” the proclamation said.
The Philippine flag partly bore this protectorate posturing, with its blue, red, and white colors “commemorating the flag of the United States of America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lent us and continues lending us,” according to the same declaration.
University of Santo Tomas history professor Archie Resos said Aguinaldo knew American duplicity was in the offing, even as he accepted them into the revolutionary fold as provisional allies.
“The Treaty of Paris was already planned beforehand as the Protocol of Peace on August 12, 1898. Aguinaldo, assuming the presidency of the Philippines, created diplomatic agents in the US, Japan, England, France and Australia. Aguinaldo was working for US recognition of Philippine independence though Felipe Agoncillo and Sixto Lopez. It was known to Aguinaldo that the Philippines was not included in the Protocol of Peace signed by representatives of the US and Spain in Paris,” he said.
Yet despite the expediency of his actions, Aguinaldo was not remiss of his duty as leader of the Filipino revolutionaries. He pressed U.S. consuls E. Spencer Pratt and Rounsenville Wildman during meetings to ascertain their real intentions.
“Between 10 or 12 in the forenoon of the next day, the conference was renewed and Mr. Pratt then informed me that the Admiral (George Dewey) had sent him a telegram in reply to the wish I had expressed for an agreement in writing. He said the Admiral’s reply was – That the United States would at least recognize the Independence of the Philippines under the protection of the United States Navy. The Consul added that there was no necessity for entering into a formal written agreement because the word of the Admiral and of the United States Consul were in fact equivalent to the most solemn pledge that their verbal promises and assurance would be fulfilled to the letter and were not to be classed with Spanish promises or Spanish ideas of a man’s word of honor. In conclusion the Consul said, ‘The Government of North America is a very honest, just, and powerful government,’” Aguinaldo recounted in his memoirs of the Philippine-American war.
De La Salle University history professor Jose Victor Torres pointed to miscommunication as an issue which possibly hampered Aguinaldo’s political engagement with the American officials in Hong Kong.
“It is difficult to know what really happened with the Aguinaldo discussions with both Pratt and Dewey. One said one thing and the other said another. But here is one thing to consider, Aguinaldo spoke no English and both Pratt and Dewey spoke no Spanish. They spoke through translators. So what was probably understood or stated was lost in translation. Either that or America never did promise or promised something then took it back,” he said.
Gen. Leonard Wood, who later became governor-general of the country, told Aguinaldo that the United States would support Philippine independence if the Filipino troops join forces with the Americans against the Spaniards. The Spanish army under Governor-General Basilio Agustin tried to persuade the Filipinos to their side, pouncing on the Americans’ intention “of robbing us of all that means life, honor, and liberty, and by treating the Filipinos as “refractory to civilization, to take possession of your riches as if they were unacquainted with the right of property.”
But the Filipinos had other things in mind. Aguinaldo thought enlisting American support was necessary to expel the stubborn Spanish army holed in Intramuros. Later on, Filipino troops would find themselves oddly excluded from the U.S.-led plan to seize the center of power within the besieged Walled City.
“Divine Providence is about to place independence within reach. The Americans have extended their protecting mantle to our beloved country… The American fleet will prevent any reinforcements coming from Spain… Where you see the American flag flying, assemble in numbers; they are our redeemers,” Aguinaldo was quoted to have said in “Crucible of Empire,” a film about the Spanish-American War which historian James Bradley quoted in his book “The Imperial Cruise.”
Rent-an-army and Manifest Destiny
However, it was Aguinaldo and his forces who were actually enlisted by the Americans as a “temporary rent-an-army.” It was also the United States which gave Spain a ‘dignified” exit, after the once-powerful European empire implied its refusal to concede defeat to the Filipinos. But the more telling story was how U.S. President William McKinley justified the annexation of the country under the guise of “manifest destiny.”
“When next I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess that I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides―Democrats as well as Republicans―but got little help. I thought first that we would take only Manila; then Luzon; the other islands perhaps also,” McKinley recounted.
Speaking with a group of Methodist ministers, he confessed going down to his knees and praying to God for “light and guidance” until one night, he arrived at a decision.
“I don’t know how it was but it came; (1) that we could not give them back to Spain―that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany―our commercial rivals in the Orient―that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves―they were unfit for self government and would soon have anarchy and misrule worse than Spain’s was; and (4) there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all and to educate the Filipinos and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the best we could for them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the Chief Engineer of the War Department (our map maker) and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States.”
The McKinley story may have been a stretch. But for Bradley, it showed the president’s deep understanding of American sentiment against imperialism, “so he made Americans believe that their nation’s boldly imperial moves were instead efforts of great compassion and sacrifice. If Americans felt pity for Others, they had a Christian duty to help.”
McKinley’s successor, William Howard Taft, practically toed the same line when faced with the question of civilizing a people whom British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling described as “half-devil, half-child” in his epic work “White Man’s Burden.”
“Our history has been one of expansion (which) is not a matter of regret, but pride… We were right in wresting from barbarism and adding to civilization the territory of which we have made these beautiful states. Barbarism has… no place in a civilized world. It is our duty toward the people living in barbarism to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can free them only by destroying barbarism itself,” Taft said, pertaining to the Filipinos whom he called “little brown brothers.”
An article by unknown Filipino authors published in the North American Review in 1899, reproached the Americans’ impression of the Philippines as a land of savages or Pacific “niggers” by underscoring the irony of McKinley’s policy of benevolent assimilation.
“Now, here is a unique spectacle? The Filipinos fighting for liberty, the American people fighting them to give them liberty. The two peoples are fighting on parallel lines for the same object. We know that parallel lines never meet,” the article read. “Your imperialism led you, blind-fold, to purchase “sovereignty” from a third party who had no title to give you? A confidence trick, certainly, very transparent; a bad bargain, and one we have had sufficient perspicuity and education to see through.”
Towards the end of the article, the authors boldly exclaimed that whatever the Americans do, they will “never conquer the Philippine Islands by force alone.”
“How many soldiers in excess of the regular army do you mean to leave in every town, in every province? How many will the climate claim as its victims, apart from those who may fall in actual warfare? What do the American people, who have thousands of acres yet unfilled, want with the Philippines? Have you figured up the cost?,” it added.
For America’s military eyes, the Philippines shines as a precious geographical gem in the Far East for its strategic location. Guided by its expansionist ambition, the United States saw the Pacific and its overlaying territories as a natural defensive fortification to keep the home country literally at bay from a possible conflict with the Russians in the East. The foreshadowing of such approach proved vital for U.S. interest as it currently faces the growing power of China in the region.
“The US government legitimized their control of the Philippines through democratization, education and public health. These in fact, had positive impact in the lives of Filipinos. However, the ulterior motive would show that it is not only economic but defense as well because they have fortified military bases in the country as their first line of defense in the Asia-Pacific against possible attack from US nemesis in the region,” Resos said.
Like Spain, the United States also viewed the Philippines as a minefield of resources and an ideal jump-off point to a robust Asian market. That economic arm-flexing was articulated in the words of Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who said the United States “must have new markets unless we would be visited by declines in wages and by great industrial disturbances, of which signs have not been lacking.” Resos put it more precisely from a Filipino perspective.
“The United States had economic agenda as their primary purpose in the Philippines. It boils down to the accumulation of “dollars” to further strengthen its grip on international influence. The Philippines is in a very strategic geopolitical area in Southeast Asia conducive for acquisition of wealth especially with its proximity to China and Japan, thus, recognizing Emilio Aguinaldo’s plan for independence would derail its ultimate goal in the Philippines,” he said.
Torres agreed, saying every colonial venture is attached to an economic necessity.
“In the case of the United States, it was the need for a market to support its economic boom. By 1896, the US suffered its first crash because the country was growing but the market was not. And the biggest market they were eyeing at that time was China. And the only way to go to China was to have a jump-off point. This was, it was said, the Philippines,” he said.
Renowned industrialist-cum-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie agreed that the United States needed to penetrate foreign markets to keep the American economy running. But the card-bearing member of the U.S. Anti-Imperialist League which opposed the American annexation of the Philippines would swallow none of the justifications made by McKinley.
Convinced that a people, regardless of color or creed, should be governed by consent, Carnegie met McKinley on May 16, 1902 and offered to literally pay the United States government $20 million dollars – the same amount Spain disbursed to the American delegation in Paris – to guarantee the Philippines’ continued independence from Washington.
“Mr. Carnegie went to Mr. McKinley when the Spanish treaty was pending, and said to him that America was in face of war in the Philippines; that our people and the Filipinos would soon be killing one another, and he asked to be sent to Manila with the fullest authority to declare that America desired good things for the little brown men and would soon recognize their independence…,” a New York Times described the Carnegie-McKinley meeting.
Evidently, McKinley declined Carnegie’s historic offer.
On September 30, 1901, the New York Tribune reported a move in the U.S. Congress to rename the Philippines as “McKinley Islands.”
“The object is of course to perpetuate the name and glory of the martyred President and his administration. It is intended to bring the proposition before the next Congress, and it is not doubted that it will be accepted without question in the proper manner,” the story read.
It also proposed to name some parts of the country to members of the American Commission which negotiated the Paris Treaty “as well as Admiral Dewey, General Lawton, Governor Taft, General Otis, Secretary Root, and others” who helped secure the islands for the United States.
But McKinley’s “King Philip” moment to “link his name with the government of the country for all time” was too much for Manifest Destiny to comfort. In the end, the young, revolting Philippines chose to keep its name – and fight for its independence.
***Anthony Divinagracia is a senior producer of News 5 and One News. He has a Masters degree in History and teaches Political Science at the University of Santo Tomas.