Philippine Revolution

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This article is about a late 19th-century revolution. For a late 20th-century event, also referred to as Philippine Revolution, see EDSA Revolution of 1986.

The Philippine Revolution (1896—1898) was an armed conflict between the Spanish colonial regime and the Katipunan, which sought Philippine independence from Spain.


When the Revolution began, Spain had been colonizing the Philippines for over 300 years. Power was centered around the colonial government in Manila and the Church, although in reality it was a frailocracia, [1] --the Dominican friars exercising more power than the civilian government due to the stringent control of the Church over the populace. Because of the imposition of excessive taxes and forced labor on the indios (as the Filipinos were called), several revolts occurred in the middle and latter part of the 19th century, all without success. The Spaniards implemented the age-old strategy of divide et impera - divide and rule. The government would conscript Filipino troops from the Tagalog provinces to suppress a revolt in the Ilocos, and would quell a Visayan uprising largely with the help of troops recruited from Pampanga province. This caused hatred and discord among the indios who were never to unite until the late 19th century.

What caused the revolution was a combination of external and internal factors. The archipelago was opened to foreign trade during the mid-19th century, aided by the launching of the Suez Canal in 1869. Along with the import of goods came an inflow of western thought, such as the pursuit of liberty and independence. Schools, organizations, literature and other means fostering these ideals were considered subversive and banned by the colonial administration and the entrenched frailocracia. The filipinos who were influenced by these liberal concepts were the same people who benefited from foreign trade--the ilustrados, members of the prosperous merchant class who sent their sons to study at universities in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Many of these students, chief among them Jose Rizal and Graciano Lopez-Jaena, would organize a reform organization, called the Propaganda Movement.

The internal factor was the execution of three Filipino priests. During the mid-19th century, a campaign was initiated by Father Pedro Pelaez calling for the "naturalization" of Filipino parishes--the turnover of churches to native-born Filipinos. After Pelaez's death in an earthquake, the crusade was led by Fathers Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora.

The frailocracia was adamantly opposed to reforms and looked for pretext to arrest the trio. They had their opportunity when a mutiny in the fort in Cavite was aborted. Although the rebellion was led by a disaffected military officer and did not involve the priests, the civil government and church hierarchy nonetheless accused them of conspiracy. After a swift trial, the priests--known collectively and posthumously by the acronym Gomburza--were executed by garrote in February 17, 1872 at Bagumbayan in Manila. The sympathetic archbishop of Manila refused the order that they be defrocked and instead directed the pealing of church bells as a sign of mourning.

The execution enraged many Filipinos, and years later, an ilustrado by the name of Jose Rizal would later acknowledge this as the one event that changed his life.

Propaganda Movement

A group of Filipino ilustrados in Madrid, shocked by what they saw as the disparity between Spain and her colony, organized the "Propaganda Movement". Among its members were Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, the political exile Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce, and the Luna brothers--Juan and Antonio. They published a fortnightly newspaper in Spanish called La Solidaridad. Its aim was to expose corruption and atrocities in the Philippine colony. The publication lasted from 1889 to 1895. Copies of it were smuggled into the Philippines and were read surreptitiously behind closed doors.

In its later years, because of differences in opinion, the movement suffered a division. One faction supported del Pilar as its leader, while the other supported Rizal. To resolve the dispute, Rizal volunteered to pack his bags and leave Barcelona, where the group was by now based. Rizal's departure would signal its slow and steady downfall. With the subsequent demise of both Lopez-Jaena and del Pilar the group failed to witness the fruition of their dream for internal reform in the colony as well as their hopes for representation in the Spanish Cortes. However, through the La Solidaridad, they not only voiced out their outrage to their readers in Spain and the rest of the western world, but conveyed their protests to their countrymen which gave rise to greater dissent and discontent.

La Liga Filipina

Rizal returned to his native land in 1892 and established La Liga Filipina. The progressive organization continued Rizal's aim of implementing reforms inside the colony. Despite its avowed aims for peaceful reforms, the government felt threatened by its existence and had it disbanded. They were especially disturbed by one clause in its Declaration calling for "defence against all violence and injustice" and arrested Rizal on July 6.

The coalition subsequently splintered into two factions with differing agenda. The moderate wing reorganized itself as Cuerpo de Compromisarios with the purpose of providing funds for La Solidaridad. The radical wing, led by a warehouse clerk named Andres Bonifacio, became the Katipunan whose goal was complete independence from Spain through all means, including a bloody confrontation.


On the night of July 7, 1892, members of the defunct Liga, Ladislao Diwa, Teodoro Plata, Valentin Diaz, and Deodato Arellano, joined Bonifacio to found the Katipunan in a house on Calle Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto Avenue). Bonifacio was hailed as the Supremo (supreme leader). With the nation's total liberation as its ultimate purpose, the secret society's immediate goal was to institute a government to be installed upon the overthrow of the Spanish administration. They raised funds to purchase weapons and sought the help of a Japanese ship docked in Manila as middleman, but failed in the attempt. Eventually, the men got hold of a small number of smuggled and stolen firearms; however, the majority of the militants were only armed with bolos or itak, locally-made machete-like knives.

To spread their revolutionary ideas, they published the newspaper Kalayaan (Freedom). It was edited by Emilio Jacinto and printed (along with other Katipunan documents) on a printing press purchased with proceeds from the lottery winnings of Francisco del Castillo and Candido Iban, who would later found the Katipunan in Panay. To mislead the Spanish authorities, it carried a false masthead declaring Marcelo del Pilar the editor and Yokohama the site of the printing press. The newspaper was published only once, before the katipuneros, having been alerted of the organization's discovery by the Spaniards, destroyed their printing press. They then moved their operations to the offices of Diario de Manila where one other edition of the paper was printed in secrecy.

It did not take long before Katipunan membership swelled in numbers, its aims and ideals spreading to other provinces. By March 1896, councils were being organized in the towns of San Juan del Monte, San Felipe Neri, Pasig, Pateros, Marikina, Caloocan, Malabon and surrounding areas. It later dispersed to the provinces of Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Laguna and Pampanga. It also included women among its ranks, with the first female inductee in 1893. From a measly 300, the Katipunan grew to an army of more than 30,000 which made Bonifacio confident that liberation of the Katagalugan (as he called the Philippines) was imminent.

Cry of Pugadlawin

Two katipuneros, Teodoro Patiño and Apolonio dela Cruz, were engaged in a bitter personal dispute. The former, Patiño, deciding to seek revenge, exposed the secrets of the Katipunan to his sister who was a nun, who in turn revealed it to a Spanish priest, Father Mariano Gil. The priest was led to the printing press of Diario de Manila and found a lithographic stone used to print the secret society's receipts. A locker was seized containing a dagger and secret documents.

Several arrests ensued which included some of the wealthiest ilustrados. Despite their denial, many of them were executed. It was speculated that Bonifacio intended for the events leading to their arrest to happen in order to coerce the wealthy into joining the Katipunan.

The news immediately reached the top leadership of the organization. Panic-stricken, they immediately called a meeting of the remaining members, first in Kangkong and then in the house of katipunero Juan Ramos in Pugadlawin in Balintawak. The first meeting yielded nothing. On the second meeting, Bonifacio, fed up with the seemingly-endless squabbling, tore up his cedula (residence certificate) and cried Mabuhay ang Katagalugan! (Long live Katagalugan!). It was a cry to arms and was echoed by the majority of the men in attendance. The Revolution had begun.

The first armed encounter between the Spanish colonists and a small group of the Katipunan took place in Pasong Tamo in Caloocan and signaled a small victory for the revolutionaries. The first battle of note occurred in San Juan del Monte in Manila. The katipuneros were winning initially, but were subsequently defeated by reinforcements summoned by Governor-General Ramon Blanco. Bonifacio then ordered his men to retreat to Mandaluyong.

Death of Rizal

Not long after their disastrous defeat in San Juan (the site is now known as Pinaglabanan, Tagalog for "battleground"), several uprisings occurred in nearby provinces. Governor-General Blanco was obliged to place eight provinces under martial law. These were Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Tarlac, Laguna, Batangas, and Nueva Ecija. They would later be represented in the eight rays of the sun in the Filipino flag. Arrests and interrogations were intensified and many Filipinos died from torture.

When the revolution broke out, Jose Rizal was living as a political exile in Dapitan and had just volunteered to serve as a doctor in Cuba, where a similar revolution was taking place. Instead of taking him to Barcelona from where he would be sent to Cuba, his ship, acting upon orders from Manila, took him instead to the capital where he was imprisoned in Fortaleza (Fort) Santiago. There he wrote his famous valedictory poem and awaited his execution which came on December 30, 1896 after a military trial. Although Rizal opposed the Katipunan from the beginning, he became a hero of the revolution through his martyred death and his incendiary writings critical of Spanish rule. His execution fanned the Filipinos' anger and ensured that the revolution would stay.


The province of Cavite gradually emerged as the hotbed for the uprising. The revolutionary group led by young General Emilio Aguinaldo, had a string of victories starting with the Battle of Imus in 1 September 1896 with the aid of Jose Tagle. Bonifacio meanwhile had had a succession of defeats and was forced to resort to guerilla "hit and run" tactics (though he did serve as overall commander and tactician in the Morong area). It was not long before the issue of leadership was debated. The Magdiwang faction, led by Bonifacio's uncle Mariano Alvarez, recognized Bonifacio as supreme leader, being the founder. The Magdalo faction, led by Emilio's cousin Baldomero Aguinaldo, agitated for "Heneral Miong" (Emilio's nickname) to be the organization's head because of his successes in the battrlefield. The friction between the two factions intensified when they refused to cooperate and aid each other in battle. As a result, the Spanish forces, now under the command of Governor-General Camilo de Polavieja, steadily gained ground.

Tejeros Convention

In order to unite the Katipunan in Cavite, the Magdiwang invited Bonifacio, who was fighting in Morong (now Rizal) province, to come to Cavite, Aguinaldo's home ground. The Supremo reluctantly obliged. On December 31, an assembly was convened in Imus to settle the leadership issue once and for all. The Magdalo insisted on the establishment of a pamahalaang mapanghimagsik (revolutionary government) to replace the Katipunan and continue the struggle. On the other hand, the Magdiwang favored the Katipunan's retention, arguing that it was a government in itself. The assembly dispersed without a consensus.

On March 22, 1897, another meeting was held in Tejeros. It called for the election of officers for the pamahalaang mapanghimagsik. Bonifacio, again reluctantly, chaired the election. This convention ended in further conflict and led to the Katipunan's demise.

Bonifacio, apparently confident that he would be elected president, called for the election results to be respected. When the voting ended, Bonifacio lost the race--and the leadership of the revolution--to Aguinaldo, who was away fighting in Pasong Santol. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, Bonifacio lost through dagdag-bawas. Instead, he was elected to a much inferior position, director of the interior, and even then his qualifications to serve were questioned by a Magdalo, Daniel Tirona. Bonifacio, though literate, was not an ilustrado and only had an elementary-school education. Humiliated, Bonifacio drew his pistol and was about to shoot him had not Artemio Ricarte intervened. Bonifacio declared the election null and void and stomped out in anger. Aguinaldo took his oath of office as president the next day in Santa Cruz de Malabon (now Tanza) in Cavite, as did the rest of the officers, except for Bonifacio.

Death of Bonifacio

In Naic, Bonifacio and his officers created the Naic Military Agreement, establishing a rival government to Aguinaldo's. It rejected the election at Tejeros and restored Bonifacio as the "true" Supremo. When Aguinaldo learned of the document, he ordered the arrest of Bonifacio and his men. Colonel Agapito Benzon chanced upon Bonifacio in Limbon. In the subsequent battle, Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were wounded, while their brother Ciriaco was killed. They were taken to Naic to stand trial.

The Consejo de Guerra (War Council) sentenced Andres and Procopio Bonifacio to death for sedition and treason. Aguinaldo commuted the punishment to deportation, but withdrew his decision following pressure from other officers.

On May 10, Colonel Lazaro Makapagal, upon orders from ex-Bonifacio supporter General Mariano Noriel, executed the Bonifacio brothers on Mt. Buntis. Andres Bonifacio and his brother were buried in a shallow grave marked only with twigs.


Augmented by new recruits from Spain, government troops recaptured several towns in Cavite. The succession of defeats for the Katipunan could also be attributed to conflict within the organization that resulted from Bonifacio's assassination, with those loyal to him refusing to subject themselves to the command of Aguinaldo. It did not, however, deter Aguinaldo and his men to keep on fighting. They moved northward, from one town to the next, until they finally settled in Biak-na-Bato, in the town of San Miguel de Mayumo in Bulacan. Here they established what became known as the Republic of Biak-na-Bato, with a constitution drafted by Isabelo Artacho and Felix Ferrer and based on the first Cuban Constitution.

With the new Spanish Governor-General Fernando Primo de Rivera declaring, "I can take Biak-na-Bato. Any army can capture it. But I cannot end the rebellion," he proffered the olive branch of peace to the revolutionaries. Lawyer Pedro Paterno volunteered as negotiator between the two sides. For four months, he traveled between Manila and Biak-na-Bato. His hard work finally bore fruit when, on December 14-15, 1897, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed. Made up of three documents, it called for the following agenda:

  • The surrender of Aguinaldo and the rest of the revolutionary corps.
  • Amnesty for those who participated in the revolution..
  • Exile to Hong Kong for the revolutionary leadership.
  • Payment by the Spanish government to the revolutionaries in three installments: 400,000 pesos upon leaving the country, 200,000 pesos upon the surrender of at least 700 firearms, and another 200,000 pesos upon the declaration of general amnesty.

In accordance with the first clause, Aguinaldo and twenty five other top officials of the revolution were banished to Hong Kong with 400,000 pesos in their pockets. The rest of the men got 200,000 pesos and the third installment was never received. General amnesty was never declared because sporadic skirmishes continued.

The Revolution Continues

Not all the revolutionary generals complied with the treaty. One, General Francisco Makabulos, established a Central Executive Committee to serve as the interim government until a more suitable one was created. Armed conflicts resumed, this time coming from almost every province in Spanish-governed Philippines. The Spaniards, on the other hand, continued the arrest and torture of those suspected of "banditry".

The Pact of Biak-na-Bato did not signal an end to the war. Aguinaldo and his men were convinced that the Spaniards would never give the rest of the money as a condition of surrender. Furthermore, they believed that Spain reneged on her promise of amnesty. The exiles renewed their commitment for complete independence and ouster of the colonialists. They purchased more arms and ammunitions to ready themselves for another siege.

The Spaniards and their once-loyal subjects now had conflicting goals, and both were determined to achieve theirs, by any means necessary.

American Intervention

The United States emerged a world power after decisive victories during the Spanish-American War. The Philippine revolution could not have happened at a more opportune time. Not only were the Spaniards waging war against the Filipinos, they were also engaged in a much more costly war against an emerging world power. After the "destruction" of the USS Maine, United States President William McKinley declared war against Spain. America was concerned over the situation in Cuba in particular, where there was an ongoing revolution. Newspapers were publishing stories that portrayed the Spanish authorities as "merciless, barbaric evil-doers". In particular, the governor-general in Cuba, Valeriano Weyler (who also served as Governor-General of the Philippines) was nicknamed "The Butcher". The angry American people quickly called for war against Spain, which was realized when the Congress of the United States voted in favor of direct intervention in Cuba.

Commodore George Dewey, acting upon orders, sailed to Manila Bay on April 25, 1898. He encountered a fleet of twelve old rusty ships commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo. The resulting battle lasted only a few hours, with all of Montojo's fleet subdued. Because he did not have enough troops to capture Manila, Dewey had to call for armed reinforcements and while waiting, contented himself with merely acting as a blockade for Manila Bay [2].

Meanwhile, United States consuls E. Spencer Pratt and Rounceville Wildman paid Aguinaldo a visit while in Hong Kong. The two persuaded Aguinaldo to again take up the mantle of leadership in the revolution. After some discussion with his Hong Kong junta, he agreed to return to the country with Commodore Dewey.

When Aguinaldo returned to Hong Kong after a brief spell in Singapore (where he had met Pratt), Dewey had already gone back to Manila. The commodore, however, left instructions for the arrangement of Heneral Miong's return to the country. Aguinaldo left aboard the ship McCulloch on May 15, 1898, and arrived in Cavite two days later.

Public jubilance marked the general's return. Several revolutionaries, as well as Filipino soldiers employed by the Spaniards, submitted themselves to Aguinaldo's command. Soon after, Imus and Bacoor in Cavite, Parañaque and Las Piñas in Morong, Macabebe and San Fernando in Pampanga, as well as Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Tayabas (now Quezon), and the Camarines provinces, were liberated by the Filipinos. They were also able to secure the port of Dalahican in Cavite. The revolution was gaining ground.


The Spanish colonial government, now under Governor-General Basilio Augustín y Dávila, in order to win over the Filipinos from Aguinaldo and the Americans, established the Volunteer Militia and Consultative Assembly. Both groups were made up of Filipino recruits. However, most of them remained loyal to the revolution. The Volunteer Militia literally joined its supposed enemy, while the Assembly, chaired by Paterno, never had the chance to accomplish their goals.

Declaration of Independence

By June, the island of Luzon, except for Manila and the port of Cavite, was under Filipino control. The revolutionaries were laying siege to Manila and cutting off its food and water supply. With most of the archipelago under his control, Aguinaldo decided it was time to establish a Philippine government.

When Aguinaldo arrived from Hong Kong, he brought with him a copy of a plan drawn by Mariano Ponce, calling for the establishment of a revolutionary government. Upon the advice of Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, however, an autocratic regime was established instead on May 24, with Aguinaldo as dictator.

It was under this dictatorship that independence was finally proclaimed on June 12, 1898 in Aguinaldo's house in Kawit, Cavite. The first Filipino flag was unfurled and the national anthem was played for the first time.

Apolinario Mabini, Aguinaldo's closest adviser, was opposed to Aguinaldo's decision towards a dictatorial rule. He instead urged for the reformation of a government that could prove its stability and competency as prerequisite. Aguinaldo refused to do so; however, Mabini was able to convince him to turn his autocratic administration into a revolutionary one. Aguinaldo declared a revolutionary government on July 23.


The Revolution did not end with the June 12th declaration. The Filipinos were not able to liberate Spanish-controlled Philippines until December, and Manila did not fall into Americans' hands until August of the following year. The United States would not grant complete autonomy for the Philippines until 1946.

Upon the recommendations of the decree that established the revolutionary government, a Congreso Revolucionario was assembled at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. All of the delegates to the congress were from the ilustrado class, signaling a distinct change from the proletarian leadership of Tejeros. Mabini objected to the call for a constitutional assembly; when he did not succeed, he drafted a constitution of his own, and this too failed. A draft by ilustrado lawyer Felipe G. Calderón was instead laid on the table and this became the framework upon which the assembly drafted the first constitution.

On November 29, the assembly, now popularly-called Malolos Congress, finished the draft. However, Aguinaldo, who always placed Mabini in high esteem and heeded most of his advice, refused to sign it when the latter objected. In January 21, 1899, after a few modifications were made to suit Mabini's arguments, the constituton was finally approved by the congreso and signed by Aguinaldo.

Two days later, the Filipino Republic (also called the First Republic and Malolos Republic) was inaugurated in Malolos with Aguinaldo as president.


The Philippine Revolution was, and still is, important in many aspects.

  • First, it was the first nationalistic revolution of its kind in Asia. Subsequent revolutions in the region--the Indonesian National Revolution, the revolution in Vietnam, and the Chinese Revolution--follow, or improved on, the Philippine paradigm.
  • Second, the Revolution led to the establishment of the first non-western independent republic. Although unrecognized by most nations, the Philippines' First Republic was important because it represented the aspirations and struggle of a brown, Asian people to be independent of control by a white world power.
  • Third, it showed how disunity and discord can affect a revolution. The internal struggle between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo was one reason why the revolution faltered in its crucial stage. Subsequently, the refusal of several revolutionaries (many of them pro-Bonifacio) to fight with Aguinaldo was a major reason the revolution failed to achieve immediate and complete independence for the nation.
  • And fourth, the Revolution united the Filipinos for the first time. Before and during Spanish colonization, there was no such thing as a Filipino people. The nation was segregated into ethnic and regional groups speaking 77 different languages, and allegiances were confined to one's language or territorial affiliation resulting in a lack of national sentiment. With the Revolution, the people no longer saw themselves primarily as Cebuanos, Tagalogs, Ilokanos, Kapampangans, etc., but as "Filipinos", first and foremost.


  1. ^ As the word frailocracia cannot be found in most Spanish dictionaries nor the word "frailocracy" in the English, the term must have been coined by succeeding Filipino writers to refer to this 'unique' system of government
  2. ^ Gathering at the Golden Gate: Mobilizing for War in the Philippines, 1898. Stephen D. Coats

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