History of the Philippines (1898-1946)

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This article covers the history of the Philippines from 1898 to 1946.

American colonial period (1898-1943, 1945-1946)

Little was known by the United States of the existence of the Philippine archipelago, and it was not until Cuba appeared on the scene in 1895 that the islands came to the attention of the U.S. The Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam were dragged along into the conflicts of independence, since these colonies also began to rebel at the same time. The U.S. at that time was an emerging nation and looking for ways to compete as one of the world powers. Cuba's War of Independence with Spain was the perfect solution for the Americans. While the U.S. wanted to help these people fight for independence, they also took a serious interest in occupying and controlling these colonies and making them their own.

Conquest by U.S. (1898)

In November 1897, William McKinley demanded that Cuba be granted independence, and pressured and abused Spain for its wrongdoings. On January 25, 1898, U.S. forces began arriving in Cuba and on February 15, 1898 the American battleship USS Maine exploded, killing 269. The Americans blamed the Spanish for the incident, when in fact it was later discovered to have been an accidental malfunction of the gas generators inside the battleship which caused the explosion. The Americans retaliated and went to war with the Spanish in Cuba, and then moved on to the Philippines on May 1 in the same year, where they fought both the Spaniards and Filipinos.

As war between the United States and Spain became a distinct possibility, the commander of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron, Commodore George Dewey, had discussions with some in Emilio Aguinaldo's government in exile in Singapore and Hong Kong.

On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain and the Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, ordered Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet in the Philippines. The Battle of Manila Bay was one of the first hostile engagements of the Spanish-American War. In the darkness before dawn, Commodore Dewey's ships passed under the siege guns on the island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay and by noon on May 1, 1898 had destroyed the Spanish fleet.

On May 1, 1898 the United States of America went to the Pacific and fought the Spaniards in the Spanish colony of the Philippines. (see: Spanish-American War). The U.S. Navy under Admiral George Dewey attacked the Spanish Navy by sea in Manila Bay while the Filipino forces, led by General Emilio Aguinaldo allied with the U.S., who convinced the Filipinos they were there to help them fight for independence, also attacked by land, which resulted in a Spanish surrender.

After the Spanish fleet was destroyed Aguinaldo arrived back in the Philippines on May 19, 1898 and resumed command of his rebel forces. The Filipino rebels routed the demoralized Spanish forces in the provinces and laid siege to Manila. From the balcony of his house in Cavite, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898.

Faced with inevitable defeat, Spain was forced to cede the Philippines to the United States in exchange for 20 million United States dollars with the Treaty of Paris in 1898.

The Filipinos, under General Aguinaldo, declared victory and proclaimed their independence on June 12, 1898 in Cavite. Aguinaldo was elected by the Filipino people and became the first President of the Philippines. This act was opposed by the United States, which had plans to take over the country.

Whatever understanding Dewey and Aguinaldo may have reached in Hong Kong prior to the war, neither could have appreciated the full extent of the geopolitical forces at play. By late May, the newly appointed Admiral Dewey had received instructions to distance himself from Aguinaldo and his independence cause.

1898 US Political Cartoon. U.S. President William McKinley is shown holding the Philippines, depicted as a savage child, as the world looks on. The implied options for McKinley are to keep the Philippines, or give it back to Spain, which the cartoon compares to throwing a child off a cliff.

Philippine-American War (1899-1913)

Main article: Philippine-American War

The declared war aim of the United States was Cuban independence from Spain. This was soon accomplished. The American forces landed in Cuba on June 23 and after some brisk fighting the Spanish surrendered Santiago on July 16. The Spanish sued for peace through the French ambassador in Washington two days later. Events in the Cuban theatre were concluded in less than a month.

The United States had not expressed an interest in taking over the remnants of Spain's colonial empire. On news of Dewey's victory, warships began arriving in Manila Bay from Britain, France, Japan and Germany. The German fleet of eight warships was especially aggressive and menacing. All of these foreign powers had recently obtained concessions from China for naval bases and designated commercial spheres of interest in China. Some American interests had reason to fear that leaving the Philippines to the mercy of other foreign powers might not be in the best interests of the United States.

By late July, 12,000 American troops had arrived from San Francisco. The Spanish governor, Fermin Jaudenes, negotiated the surrender of Manila with an arranged show of resistance that preserved Spanish sensibilities of honour and excluded Aguinaldo's Filipinos. The Americans took possession of Manila on August 13, 1898.

As it became apparent that the United States did not intend to recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo moved his capital in September from Cavite to the more defensible Malolos in Bulacan. That same month, the United States and Spain began their peace negotiations in Paris.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898. By the Treaty, Cuba gained its independence and Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States for the sum of US$20 million.

Disappointed at having lost the opportunity to acquire the Philippines as a colony, Germany applied diplomatic pressure during the Paris negotiations to block the American request for the Caroline Islands. Spain subsequently sold the Caroline and Marianas Islands (less Guam) to Germany.

The Treaty of Paris was not well received by some in the Philippines. Filipino nationalists were incensed at the United States bargaining away control of the Philippines for a price of US$20 million without consulting the Filipinos. Without any government it is unclear who the United States should have consulted with.

Given its own history of colonial revolution, some American public opinion was uncomfortable and divided on the moral principle of owning colonial dependencies. Having acquired the Philippines almost by accident, the United States was not sure what to do with them. On January 20, 1899, President McKinley appointed the First Philippine Commission (Schurman Commission) to make recommendations.

Aguinaldo, seeking Philippine independence and a presidency, did not need recommendations to decide what he would do. On January 23, 1899 he proclaimed the Malolos Constitution and the First Philippine Republic.

Heated tensions between some Filipinos and Americans began to mount rapidly when locals found that the U.S. were there to control and occupy the archipelago and not turn it over to Aguinaldo's provisional government. On the night of February 4, 1899 a provisional Filipino soldier was shot dead by a U.S. soldier at a U.S. military checkpoint on San Juan Bridge. The Filipino soldier was trying to cross a ceasefire line in what is now Sociego Street in San Juan, Manila. Though Aguinaldo initially had asked for a ceasefire with the Americans, this was the incident that they were waiting for to try taking over the Philippines by force. Word of events that happened in the Philippines did not reach the ears of the American people because there was little or no interest or United States newspaper coverage of the Philippines.

At a constitutional convention, held by local nationalists, Aguinaldo was declared President of the Philippines Republic by the delegates—and declared to be an "outlaw bandit" by the McKinley Administration.

The U.S. refused to recognize Aquinaldo's provisional government and, on February 4, 1899, Aguinaldo declared war on the United States. Some Americans accused the Filipino nationalists of Jacobinist tendencies, and U.S. government officials repeatedly stated that few Filipinos were in favor of independence, although this conclusion was questioned by some. In the U.S., there was a movement to stop the conflict; some said that the U.S. had no right to a land where many of the people wanted self-government. Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist and steel magnate, offered to buy the Philippines for 20 million United States dollars and give it to the Filipinos so that they could be free of United States government.

As before when fighting the Spanish, the Filipino rebels did not do well in the field. Aguinaldo and his provisional government escaped the capture of Malolos on March 31, 1899 and were driven into northern Luzon. Peace feelers from members of Aguinaldo's cabinet failed in May when the American commander, General Ewell Otis, demanded an unconditional surrender. In 1901, Aguinaldo was captured and swore allegiance to the United States. A large American military force was used to occupy parts of the country, and would be regularly engaged in hostilities, against Filipino rebels, for another decade. The hostilities in the Philippine War of Independence began on February 4, 1899 and continued for two years. The United States used 126,000 soldiers to subdue the Philippines. The war took the lives of 4,234 Americans and about 16,000 Filipinos. As usually happens in guerrilla campaigns, the civilian population suffers the worst. As many as 200,000 civilians may have died from famine and disease.

Aguinaldo disbanded his regular forces in November and began a guerrilla campaign concentrated mainly in the Tagalog areas of central Luzon. Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901. In Manila he was persuaded to swear allegiance to the United States and called on his soldiers to put down their arms.

The United States declared an end to military rule on July 4, 1901. Sporadic resistance continued until 1913. These incidents were put down by the Philippine Constabulary.

U.S. Territory (1901-1935)

A civilian government was established by the Americans in 1901, with William H. Taft as the first civilian governor of the Philippines. English was declared the official language. Six hundred American teachers were imported aboard the USS Thomas. Also, the Catholic Church was disestablished, and a considerable amount of church land was purchased and redistributed.

Some measures of Filipino self-rule were allowed, however. An elected Filipino legislature was inaugurated in 1907.

When Woodrow Wilson became the American President, in 1913, there was a major change in official American policy concerning the Philippines. While the previous Republican administrations had envisioned the Philippines as a perpetual American colony, the Wilson administration decided to start a process that would gradually lead to Philippine independence. U.S. administration of the Philippines was declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. Therefore, U.S. officials concentrated on the creation of such practical supports for democratic government as public education and a sound legal system. The Philippines were granted free trade status, with the U.S.

In 1916, the Philippine Autonomy Act, popularly known as the Jones Law, was passed by the U.S. Congress. The law which served as the new organic act (or constitution) for the Philippines, stated in its preamble that the eventual independence of the Philippines would be American policy, subject to the establishment of a stable government. The law maintained the Governor General of the Philippines, appointed by the President of the United States, but established a bicameral Philippine Legislature to replace the elected Philippine Assembly (lower house) and appointive Philippine Commission (upper house) previously in place. The Filipino House of Representatives would be purely elected, while the new Philippine Senate would have the majority of its members elected by senatorial district with senators representing non-Christian areas appointed by the Governor-General.

The 1920s saw alternating periods of cooperation and confrontation with American governors-general, depending on how intent the incumbent was on exercising his powers vis-à-vis the Philippine legislature. Members to the elected legislature lost no time in lobbying for immediate and complete independence from the United States. Several independence missions were sent. A civil service was formed and was gradually taken over by Filipinos, who had effectively gained control by the end of World War I.

In 1934, the United States Congress, having originally passed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act as a Philippine Independence Act over President Hoover's veto, only to have the law rejected by the Philippine legislature, finally passed a new Philippine Independence Act popularly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The law provided for the granting of Philippine independence by 1946.

U.S. rule was acompanied by improvements in the education and health systems of the Philippines; school enrollment rates multipled fivefold. By the 1930s literacy rates had doubled to reach 50%. Several diseases were virtually eradicated. However, the Philippines remained economically backward. U.S. trade policies encouraged the export of cash crops and the importation of manufactured goods; little industrial development occurred. Meanwhile, landlessness became a serious problem in rural areas; peasants were often reduced to the status of serfs.

Commonwealth Era (1935-1946)

Main article: Commonwealth of the Philippines

The period 1935–1946 would ideally be devoted to the final adjustments required for a peaceful transition to full independence, a great latitude in autonomy being granted in the meantime.

On May 14, 1935, an election to fill the newly created office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was won by Manuel L. Quezon (Nacionalista Party) and a Filipino government was formed on the basis of principles superficially similar to the US Constitution. (See: Philippine National Assembly). The Commonwealth as established in 1935 featured a very strong executive, a unicameral National Assembly, and a Supreme Court composed entirely of Filipinos for the first time since 1901. The new government embarked on an ambitious agenda of establishing the basis for national defense, greater control over the economy, reforms in education, improvement of transport, the colonization of the island of Mindanao, and the promotion of local capital and industrialization. The Commonwealth however, was also faced with agrarian unrest, an uncertain diplomatic and military situation in South East Asia, and uncertainty about the level of United States commitment to the future Republic of the Philippines.

In 1939-40, the Philippine Constitution was amended to restore a bicameral Congress, and permit the reelection of President Quezon, previously restricted to a single, six-year term.

During the Commonwealth years, Philippines sent one elected Resident Commissioner to the United States House of Representatives, as Puerto Rico currently does today.

The Japanese Occupation and World War II (1941-1945)

A few hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Japanese launched air raids in several cities and US military installations in the Philippines on December 8, and on December 10, the first Japanese troops landed in Northern Luzon.

General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), was forced to retreat to Bataan. Manila was occupied by the Japanese on January 2, 1942. The fall of Bataan was on April 9, 1942 with Corregidor Island, at the mouth of Manila Bay, surrendering on May 6 (an act which completely delayed the Japanese war timetable).

The Commonwealth government by then had exiled itself to Washington, DC, upon the invitation of President Roosevelt; however many politicians stayed behind and collaborated with the occupying Japanese. The Philippine Army continued to fight the Japanese in a guerrilla war and were considered auxiliary units of the United States Army. Several Philippine military awards, such as the Philippine Defense Medal, Independence Medal, and Liberation Medal, were awarded to both the United States and Philippine Armed Forces.

As the Japanese forces advanced, Manila was declared an open city to prevent it from destruction, meanwhile, the government was moved to Corregidor. In March 1942, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and President Quezon fled the country. The cruelty of the Japanese military occupation of the Philippines is legendary. Guerrilla units harassed the Japanese when they could, and on Luzon native resistance was strong enough that the Japanese never did get control of a large part of the island. Finally, in October 1944, McArthur had gathered enough additional troops and supplies to begin the retaking of the Philippines, landing with Sergio Osmena who had assumed the Presidency after Quezon's death. The battles entailed long fierce fighting; some of the Japanese continued to fight until the official surrender of the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945.

After their landing, American forces also undertook measures to suppress the Huk movement, which was originally founded to fight the Japanese Occupation.

The American forces removed local Huk governments and imprisoned many high-ranking members of the Philippine Communist Party. While these incidents happened, there was still fighting against the Japanese forces and, despite the American measures against the Huk, they still supported American soldiers in the fight against the Japanese.

Over a million Filipinos had been killed in the war, and many towns and cities, including Manila, were left in ruins. The final Japanese soldier to surrender was Hiroo Onoda, in 1974.

World War II Veteran Benefits

During World War II, over 200,000 Filipinos fought in defense of the United States against the Japanese in the Pacific theater of military operations, where more than half died. As a commonwealth of the United States before and during the war, Filipinos were legally American nationals. With American nationality, Filipinos were promised all the benefits afforded to those serving in the armed forces of the United States. In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act which stripped Filipinos of the benefits they were promised. Of the 66 countries allied with the United States during the war, only Filipinos were denied military benefits.

Since the passage of the Rescission Act, many Filipino veterans have traveled to the United States to lobby Congress for the benefits promised to them for their service and sacrifice. Over 30,000 of such veterans live in the United States today, with most being United States citizens. Sociologists introduced the phrase "Second Class Veterans" to describe the plight of these Filipino Americans. Since 1993, numerous bills were introduced in Congress to return the benefits taken away from these veterans. However, the bills died in committee, but the struggle continues today.