CHICAGO – The Philippines, Cuba and a group of Pacific Islands, including Puerto Rico and Guam, were bought by the United States at a discount for $20 million ($549 million in today’s currency) so that a bloody Spanish-American War would be averted in pursuit of America’s “Manifest Destiny” to spread freedom and democracy around the world.
Instead of the initial offer of $130 million ($3.5 billion in today’s currency) that U.S. President Franklin Pierce agreed to buy Cuba alone from Spain, the offer was taken off the table as unnecessary after the Ostend Manifesto in 1854 suggested that the U.S. could obtain Cuba for free by use of force if the crumbling Spanish Empire “refused to sell” it.
As soon as U.S. obtained Cuba from Spain, U.S. granted Cuba outright independence. But in the case of the Philippines, which was part of the Cuban package hammered out at the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Uncle Sam hesitated in granting outright similar independence for the Philippines.
As a result, Filipino rebels (Katipuneros), who had been waging war for decades against Spain, felt betrayed when American Admiral George Dewey did not support rebels’ suggestion that the Philippines be granted outright independence, too.
This is one of the original “sins” of Uncle Sam against the Filipinos that I think Philippine President Rody Duterte would like to be redeemed by the U.S. government and U.S. Congress as Duterte distances himself from the friendly foreign policy of his predecessors throughout the 20th century. Duterte is pursuing a shift to an adversarial, if not businesslike, independent foreign policy.
By secretly agreeing with Spaniards to force their surrender “without use of arms” at the outbreak of Spanish-American War in the Philippines, Dewey stabbed Emilio Aguinaldo and Aguinaldo’s Katipunero rebels in their backs when Dewey agreed that the Spaniards surrender to American, not Katipunero, forces. Prior to the surrender and the Battle in Manila Bay, the depleted and hobbled Spanish forces were holed inside Intramuros (walled city), a Spanish fortress, waiting to give up.
If the Philippine-American War were a basketball game, the American players came to play in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter although the Filipino players had already routed the Spaniard players and the result of the game was no longer in doubt.
Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo called Dewey’s decision as “American Apostasy,” saying Americans “came to the Philippines not as a friend but as an enemy masking as a friend.”
As a consequence, Katipuneros waged battle with Americans in what is now called Philippine-American War (1899-1902), which resulted in the death of 4,234 out of 126,248 American soldiers and 20,000 Filipino soldiers and 200,000 civilians, who died of disease and starvation.
In one of those skirmishes during the Philippine American War, Filipino freedom fighters dressed as women attacked an American garrison in Balangiga, Eastern Samar on Sept. 28, 1901, 115 years ago last Wednesday, killing 43 members of the US Army 9th Infantry. Also killed were 27 Filipino guerillas.
While the battle was U.S. Army’s worst defeat since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Filipinos regard the attack as one of their bravest acts in the war.