October is Filipino American History Month (FAHM), the celebration of which is proclaimed through resolutions passed by both state and federal legislatures.
In past FAHM celebrations in Michigan, highlighted were historical events that showed a strong alliance between the United States and the Philippines. One such event is World War II during which American and Filipino soldiers fought side by side to defeat the Japanese imperial forces.
We note, however, that there had been no discussion on the three-year Philippine-American War.
For a wider perspective of FAHM, we are recalling here that sad episode of Filipino-American history, an event that is not well known.
The war broke out a few months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris with which Spain “ceded” the Philippines to the United States.
During the Spanish-American war, Filipino troops led by Emilio Aguinaldo helped the Americans defeat the Spanish colonizers.
An article written by French journalist Gaston Rourvier stated that Aguinaldo and his men, who were armed by the Americans, fought the Spaniards on land, while Admiral Dewey’s naval fleet routed the ill-equipped Spanish naval forces in the Battle of Manila Bay.
In appreciation of Aguinaldo’s assistance, the Americans promised independence to the Philippines. The promise, made by the Americans to Aguinaldo during a meeting in Singapore, was embodied in an agreement signed on Dec. 25, 1898 by American Consul General A. Spencer Pratt and Aguinaldo.
However, the Americans reneged on their promise. “Whetted by their victories, the Americans wanted the annexation of the Philippines,” Rouvier wrote. Thus, Aguinaldo and his men became the victims of a “grand deception.”
The Filipinos were even insulted when they demanded that the Americans fulfill their promise. American newspapers called the Filipinos “grown-up children incapable of governing themselves.”
Another French journalist, Henry Turot, who also covered the war, reported that American Consul Wildman, who played a leading role in the negotiations with Aguinaldo, denied having promised independence to the Filipinos.
Turot quoted Wildman as saying, “Besides, I would consider Aguinaldo as too insignificant a personality to promise him anything whatever. I considered him like a simple coolie and made him wait with the Chinese in my anteroom.”
Aguinaldo and his men protested, then took up arms.
The ensuing war lasted for three years and resulted in the killing of some 20,000 Filipino combatants and 4,200 American soldiers. Among the Filipinos killed was Gregorio del Pilar, a young, brilliant general.
Historians described the war as “brutal on both sides. US forces burned villages, implemented civilian hamletting policies, and employed torture on suspected guerrillas, while Filipino fighters also tortured captured American soldiers and terrorized civilians who cooperated with American forces.”
The war ended with the capture of Aguinaldo in 1902 in Palanan, Isabela.
The war indicates that Filipino-American friendship was written with blood on the wall of history.