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Monday, December 29, 2008

Why the U.S. destroyed the Malolos republic

Every Filipino who went through high school would have learned that there once existed an earlier Filipino republican government, the first Filipino republic and the first in Asia, the so-called Malolos republic, with Emilio Aguinaldo as its president. But that awareness is oftentimes superficial and wanting in in-depth knowledge.


(Photo source: University of Michigan Digital Library)

Not many Filipinos know that the so-called Malolos republic was a functioning government. Congress enacted laws and elected officials administered the functionaries of government in the towns and provinces. It collected taxes, customs duties and war assessment; floated bonded indebtedness, and even issued a paper currency. It maintained an army and navy and provided services in education, commerce, science, health, justice and foreign service. It operated for more than a year from its proclamation in July 3, 1898 up to its destruction by the Americans in November 12, 1899, when the last capital at Bayambang, Pangasinan was overran by American forces.

Here is a description of the establishment of the Malolos Congress:
In conformity with the organic decree of June 23, made effective by decrees of September 4 and 10, the Revolutionary Congress convened in the church of Barasoain, near Malolos, Bulacan, on September 15, 1898. Eighty-five deputies, among the ablest men of the Archipelago, responded to the summons, although the list printed with the official edition of the political constitution of the Philippine Republic contains the names of ninety-two members, later raised to one hundred and ten. Some members were elected and some appointed. Naturally the legal profession was most largely represented. While a few delegates were graduates of European Universities, they had little or no knowledge of matters political and constitutional. Nevertheless, F. D. Millet, a well-known journalist writing from personal observation, states that all "were exceptionally alert, keen, and intelligent in appearance." And John Barrett says that they "would compare in behavior, manner, dress and education with the average men of the better classes of other Asiatic nations, possibly including the Japanese. These men, whose sessions I repeatedly attended, conducted themselves with great decorum and showed a knowledge of debate and parliamentary law that would not compare unfavourably with the Japanese Parliament."

The following description of the opening of the Revolutionary Congress at Malolos was written the day after. September 16, 1898, by Mr. Millet, one of the two foreign correspondents present:

"At the large basilica of Barasoain (Malolos) we found a large number of the delegates already assembled, and the guards drawn up to receive the expected cortege of the President and his suites. The bald interior of the church was sparsely relieved by crossed palm-leaves and wreaths fastened to the columns which divide the nave from the aisles, and on the great bare spaces between the windows. In the middle of the nave were two bentwood chairs; on either side and behind these, in the aisles, were seats and benches for spectators. To the left of the chancel a long table, draped with blue and red, was arranged for the secretaries, and opposite it were special seats for invited guests, and in the front one next to the chancel rail we were assigned our places. The chancel was hung with a great white drapery, rudely painted to represent ermine, and a broad border of red cloth with palm-leaves and wreaths framed in this curtain. Crossed insurgent flags ornamented the pilasters on each side, and in the middle of the chancel, under the imitation ermine, was a long table draped with light blue and crimson, and behind this three large carved chairs. While we were waiting for the functionaries to arrive, we had an excellent opportunity of studying those who had come from all over the islands to assist in the foundation of a republic-for this was their professed purpose. Every man was dressed in full black costumes of more or less fashionable cut, according to his means or his tastes.

"At last, to the sound of the national march, the delegates moved in a body to the door and then back again, divided, and then Aguinaldo, looking very undersized and very insignificant, came marching down, bearing an ivory stick with gold head and gold cord and tassels. A group of tall, fine-looking generals and one or two dignitaries in black accompanied him, and half surrounded him as they walked along. Mounting the chancel steps, Aguinaldo took the middle seat behind the table, the Acting Secretary of the Interior took the place on his right, and a general occupied the carved chair on his left. Without any formal calling to order, the secretary rose and read the list of delegates, and sat down again. Then Aguinaldo stood up, and after the feeble vivas had ceased, took a paper from his pocket, and in a low voice, without gestures and without emphasis, and in the hesitating manner of a schoolboy, read his message in the Tagalo language. Only once was he interrupted by vivas, and that was when he alluded to the three great free nations-England, France and America-as worthy models for imitation. He next read a purported translation in Spanish with even more difficulty, and when he had finished there was quite a round of cheers, proposed and led by the veteran general Buencamino, for the President, the republic, the. victorious army, and for the town of Malolos. Then Aguinaldo arose and declared the meeting adjourned until it should re-assemble prepared to elect officers and to organize in the regular manner. The long-talked-of and ever-memorable function was over."

The Spanish version of the message of the President reads in translation as follows:

"Representatives:-The work of the revolution being happily terminated and the conquest of our territory completed, the moment has arrived to declare that the mission of arms has been brilliantly accomplished by our heroic army and now a truce is declared in order to give place to councils which the country offers to the service of the government in order to assist in the unfolding of its programme of liberty and justice, the divine message written on the standards of the revolutionary party.

"A great and glorious task, an undertaking within the capacity of every class of patriots, is it for undisciplined troops to fight and to break lances in opposition to the injustice done to those whom they defend and protect. But this is not all.

"It remains for us, further, to solve the grave and supereminent problems of peace for those for whom our fatherland demanded from us the sacrifice of our blood and of our fortunes and now at the present time calls for a solemn document, expressive of the high aspirations of the country, accompanied by all the prestige and all the grandeur of the Filipino race, in order to salute with this the majesty of those nations which are united in accomplishing the high results of civilization and progress.

"To these great friendly nations, whose glorious liberty is sung by the muse of history was addressed the sacred invocation which accompanied our undertaking in its incredible acts of valor, to these nations the Filipino people now sends its cordial salutations of lasting alliance.

"At this opening of the temple of the laws, I know how the Filipino people, a people endowed with remarkable good sense, will assemble. Purged of its old faults, forgetting three centuries of oppression, it will open its heart to the noblest aspirations and its soul to the joys of freedom; proud of its own virtues without pity for its own weaknesses, here in the church of Barasoain, once the sanctuary of mystic rites, now the august and stately temple of the dogmas of our independence, here it is assembled in the name of peace, perhaps close at hand, to unite the suffrages of our thinkers and of our politicians, of our warlike defenders of our native soil and of our learned Tagalo psychologists, of our inspired artists and of the eminent personages of the bench, to write with their votes the immortal book of the Filipino constitution as the supreme expression of the national will.

"Illustrious spirits of Rizal, of Lopez Jaena, of Hilario del Pilar! August shades of Burgos, Pelaez and Panganiban! Warlike genuises of Aguinaldo and Tirona, of Natividad and Evangelista! Arise a moment from your unknown graves! See how history has passed by right of heredity from your hands to ours, see how it has been multiplied and increased to an immense size to infinity by the gigantic strength of our arms, and more than by arms, by the eternal, divine suggestion of liberty which burns like a holy flame in the Filipino soul. Neither God nor the fatherland grants us a triumph except on the condition that we share with you the laurels of our hazardous struggle.

"And you, representatives of popular sovereignty, turn your eyes to the lofty example of the illustrious patriots!

"Let this example and their revered memory, as well as the generous blood spilled on the battlefields, be a potent incentive to arouse in you a noble spirit of emulation to dictate with the great wisdom your high mandate demands, the laws which in this fortunate era of peace are destined to govern the political destinies of our country."

Following the procedure outlined in the decree of June 23, the Congress was organized with Pedro A. Paterno as President, Benito Legarda as Vice President, and Gregorio Araneta and Pablo Ocampo, secretaries.68 On September 17th Congress listened to an eloquent address e by its president, Paterno, and elected its committees. The rules of the Spanish Cortes, slightly modified, were temporarily adopted. Subsequent to organization and ratification of a declaration of independence, the principal work became the discussion and adoption of a constitution. The Congress is also said to have passed other laws. Unfortunately no official record was kept of the poceedings. After the promulgation of the constitution, the outbreak of hostilities necessarily neutralized further effective labors by the legislature.
(Malcolm, 134-140)
Yes, the Philippine-American war destroyed the Malolos republic. But a question may be asked - why was it not allowed to exist by the Americans? If war is merely an expression of political objectives, then Washington officials, with their commitment to human rights and libertarian heritage, could have easily halted the war to let the Filipinos go on their own. Instead, U.S. president William McKinley forcibly annexed the Philippines, destroyed the Filipino republic and imposed American sovereignty over the unwilling inhabitants of the islands. Why?

U.S. military officers - Dewey, Anderson, Lawton and several other who had a first hand acquaintance with Filipinos provided the U.S. State Department with favorable impressions on the Filipinos and their capability for self government. Even U.S. president McKinley was reported to have indicated no immediate interest in the acquisition of the Philippines and instead placed the future of the Philippines in the hands of the peace negotiators. But during the Peace Treaty negotiations in Paris the United States commissioners surprisingly demanded from Spain the cession of the Philippines to the United States.


The motive behind the annexation of the Philippines by the United States had always been attributed by Filipino nationalist historians to American imperialism. They claim that American big business saw the Philippines as a "prized possession for its unexploited natural resources, its strategic location for commerce in the east and for its harbors well suited for coaling stations and repair of ships."

But Senator Richard F. Pettigrew of the United States, a prolific critic of McKinley, gave an inkling of the more plausible motive. He said England influenced the decision of the United States to keep the Philippines as a colony because a new republic in the orient might encourage the English colonies to establish their own.

Here is the revealing statement of Senator Pettigrew:
“At first we did not intend to keep the Philippines. About the early part of June, I898, the English papers began to publish articles urging the Americans to keep the Philippines. England became alarmed at the prospect of a republic being set up in the Orient. It would be like starting a prairie fire among her Malay subjects in Borneo, Singapore, Hongkong, and her other East India possessions. Hence President McKinley did not wish to start another Paul Kruger to set a bad example to the subjects of the Empress of India. The ‘London Spectator’, on the Philippines, hoped the United States would keep them, saying: 'The weary Titan needs an ally, and the only ally whose aspirations, ideas, and language are like his own is the great American people." (Pettigrew, 607)
[The name Paul Kruger is associated with the First Boer War. After the British annexed South Africa in 1877, Kruger led a war of resistance against the British who were defeated in the decisive battle at Majuba in 1881 and an independent republic was established. ]
The prospect of antagonizing the British on one hand and offending the democratic idealism of the American people on the other perhaps explains the evolving nature of McKinley's policy towards the Philippines. This policy was initially announced as a hands-off policy and eventually evolved into a policy of annexation.

The change in policy can be gleaned from the succession of events following the declaration of war with Spain in April 25, 1898. At this time, U.S. President McKinley had no clear-cut position about American intentions in the Philippines. While the United States granted the Cubans their independence after liberation from Spain and the same policy being expected by the Filipinos for themselves, nothing of the sort came about. The fact is, the Filipinos willingly sided with the Americans because they considered the Cuban experience as a manifestation of the good intentions of the Americans. But a period of non-decision prevailed on the Philippine question, which McKinley himself admitted he agonized on it.

After the defeat of Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, a Peace Protocol between Spain and the United States was signed in August 12, 1898. Even at this time, the intention to annex the Philippines was absent. The protocol merely gave the United States the right to hold the city, the bay and harbor for coaling purposes. There was no mention about cession of the archipelago, nor a takeover of island of Luzon or another Philippine island.

Believing that the Americans would let them enjoy an independent government under an American protectorate, the Filipinos cooperated with the Americans in most cordial manner. Aguinaldo secured the initial cache of arms from Commodore Dewey. Two U.S. cruisers, the Raleigh and the Concord, effected the surrender of the Spanish garrison in Subic Bay and the 1,200 Spanish prisoners were turned over by Dewey to Aguinaldo. Dewey also sent his cruisers to seek out the German cruiser Irene which challenged the identity of a Filipino steamer, the Filipinas, on the basis that the Filipino flag it was flying did not represent a country recognized as a belligerent. Dewey defended the act of flying of the Filipino flag by the Filipino vessels saying he tolerated it. This friendly American attitude towards the Filipinos continued until about the arrival of the first expedition of American troops in mid 1898.

However, from August to the later part of 1898, the United States policy on the Philippines swayed towards annexation. The new policy revealed itself during the Treaty of Paris negotiations. The United States demanded cession of the whole Philippine archipelago. This demand had gone beyond what was originally specified in the Peace Protocol, which merely allowed the United States to hold the city, the bay and harbor. And as events later confirmed, the might of the U.S. military was called upon to effect the complete subjugation of the Filipinos notwithstanding their heroic resistance.

Among the papers annexed to the Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain were 51 pages of documents comprising the section labeled Protectorates, Colonies, and Non-Sovereign States (Treaty), which were detailed description of how the British administered their possessions.

Did the United States follow the advice to hold the Philippines as a colony because England fear the loss of her own colonies in the East whose inhabitants might follow the course of the Filipinos - throw off the colonial yoke and establish a republic?

Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon thought so when he said:
"I should not be surprised if Britain, France and Holland would be pleased to see the American flag continue to fly over these islands in perpetuity. But to those nations I will say a word in all friendship. It is this: What their subject peoples ultimately do will not be determined by anything which happens in the Philippines." (Bell, 5)
Surely, more light on this issue should be forthcoming.

1 comment:

U.S. Common Sense said...

Great take on the numerous variables behind the end of the Spanish-American War. It makes you wonder how things might have changed if the Philippines had been recognized as an independent country at the turn of the century.