The Philippine War, 1899-1902

Copyright 1993, 1996 by Mark Grimsley
All rights reserved. This means you.

      I. Introduction

        A. Burdens of informal empire

          1. Occupation of newly-acquired territory.

          2. Cuba--Teller Amendment at start of SpAm War renounced claims to annex Cuba. But after war US occupied Cuba until 1902.

          3. Mil. gov't run by MG John R. Brooke and later MG Leonard Wood.

            a. Initiated reforms; eliminated yellow fever.

            b. A constituent assembly met, drew up organic law for the island modeled after US constitution.

              (1) Law included several clauses known as Platt amendment, which also appeared in subsequent 1903 treaty.

              (2) Platt amendment limited amount of debt Cuba could contract, granted US naval bases at Guantanamo and Bahia Honda, gave US right to intervene to "preserve Cuban independence" and maintain a gov't "adequate to the protection of life, property, and individual liberty."

                (a) US intervened in 1906-1909, 1912, 1917. Did not give up right of intervention till 1934.

        B. American Objectives, Philippines

          1. The United States initially attacked the Philippines in order to destroy Spain's Asiatic Squadron and to hold a bargaining chip for eventual negotiations. McKinley probably did not--at least initially--contemplate the permanent acquisition of this archipelago.

          2. By November 1898, however, it had become clear that Spain should not retain the Philippines. Thus the United States faced three choices:

            a. It might permit another nation to annex the islands, which McKinley promptly ruled out;

            b. It might grant the Filipinos their independence, but McKinley and many American policymakers considered the Filipinos "utterly unprepared" for this;

            c. Or it could annex the Philippines itself. McKinley considered the idea of annexing only Manila or Luzon (the main island), but quickly concluded that the nature of the archipelago--some 7,000 islands separated, in many instances, by narrow straits--made this strategically unworkable. It might easily result in a hostile power gaining control of the areas immediately outside the American sphere.

          3. US wound up paying Spain $20 million to overcome Spanish objections to annexation.

        C. Thus the American objective became one of exerting control over the entire archipelago.

          1. In so doing, it inherited a war the Spanish had already been fighting against native revolutionaries.

      II. Background to the Filipino Insurrection

        A. Spanish Domination

          1. Until May 1898, the Philippines had been under Spanish rule since the late 16th century, but for many years the Spanish had concentrated on using Manila as an entrepôt for its transoceanic trade, not on the internal development of the countryside.

          2. The result was, in practice, a decentralized form of government in which direct Spanish rule was confined the Manila and its environs. In the countryside, the Spanish ruled through the Roman Catholic regular clergy and a traditional native elite--called principales--who were confirmed in their local power in exchange for accepting royal authority.

          3. This system began to break down in the late 18th century, when native Spanish flocked to the islands to invest in land, sugar, hemp and tobacco. The resulting export economy created tensions between the Spanish (peninsulares) and the principalia.

        B. Filipino Reformers

          1. In the mid-19th century, a Filipino reform movement emerged which was determined to seek a more equitable arrangement of both political and economic power. These were Ilustrados--educated Filipinos who had been exposed to European liberal and nationalist ideals. The principales initially supported the Ilustrados, since their interests coincided and since the Ilustrado program was not socially or politically radical.

            a. The Spanish responded with an inept attempt at minor reforms, coupled with violence against the Ilustrados that simply gave them martyrs.

          2. In 1892 the center of resistance shifted to Andrés Bonifacio's Manila-based "Highest and Most Honorable Society of the Sons of the Country," or Katipunan society. Bonifacio called for a national revolt in 1896.

            a. Initially confined only to Tagalog group.

            b. The Katipunan had rather vague ideological and political goals that remain the subject of debate.

              (1) But they clearly wanted Filipino independence

              (2) And they were clearly nowhere near as well-organized as the Marxist-Leninist or Maoist revolutionary groups that we're used to.

        C. The Emergence of Aguinaldo

          1. Bonifacio was charismatic but a poor field commander, and in 1897 he was essentially deposed by a rising star of the Katipunan, a 27-year old principale named Emilio Aguinaldo. When Bonifacio refused to acquiesce in his deposition, Aguinaldo had court-martialed and shot.

          2. In September 1897 Aguinaldo took a leaf from the on-going Cuban resistance and called for the adoption of guerrilla tactics to fight a protracted war.

            a. He created a system of village militia, called Sandahatans. These were organized locally and fought in a de-centralized fashion.

          3. Soon thereafter he declared Filipino independence and summoned all Filipinos, not just Tagalogs, to join him.

            a. Spanish, hoping to avoid a large-scale war like that in Cuba, concluded a pact with Aguinaldo in December 1897.

          4. Aguinaldo and some of his followers left for Hong Kong with 400,000 pesos and the understanding that Spain would pay an indeminity to Filipinos and would initiate real reform.

            a. But Filipinos, encouraged from afar by Aguinaldo--whose prestige had soared after he negotiated with Spain as an equal--continued.

            b. On 12 May 1898--eleven days after the US victory in Manila Bay--Aguinaldo returned.

      III. The War, 1898-1900

        A. The Coming of the Americans

          1. Initially Dewey pursued cordial relations with the Filipinos, partly for practical reasons and partly because he did not yet realize any divergence between US and Filipino interests.

            a. By 26 May, however, he had received orders from SecNav Long to avoid an alliance with the revolutionaries.

          2. Still, Dewey remained on good enough terms with Aguinaldo that Aguinaldo believed that a de facto alliance existed. After all, Dewey had arranged for Aguinaldo's return, had distributed arms to the Filipino insurgents, and had not objected to Aguinaldo's 24 May assumption of dictatorial powers, his 12 June proclamation of Philippine independence, or his 24 June arrogation of the presidency of the revolutionary government.

          3. The arrival of American ground troops at the end of June created new tensions. Americans no longer needed Aguinaldo as much. US commanders probably would have preferred a cooperative arrangement but political situation made that impossible.

            a. Americans and Filipinos conducted two separate, parallel sieges of Manila. Filipinos could not storm city themselves; Americans could, but managed to arrange an opera-bouffe whereby the Spanish commander surrendered after token resistance. When Filipinos tried to occupy city as well, the Americans turned them back.

          4. The overall US commander, Wesley Merritt, did what he could do alleviate tensions. Aguinaldo, meantime, bided his time. On 10 December 1898, the Treaty of Paris formally transferred sovereignty of the Philippines to the United States. Clashes between US and Filipino troops increased. Aguinaldo continued to wait and see whether the US Senate would ratify the Treaty of Paris.

        B. The Outbreak of War and the Republican Army

          1. In February 1899 the Senate ratified the treaty and McKinley embarked on a policy of "benevolent assimilation." Tensions between Filipinos and Americans sharpened. Situation was not helped by the mercuric actions of Major General Elwell S. Otis, Merritt's successor. On 4 February 1899 a Nebraska private fired at a Filipino patrol on the outskirts of Manila when it refused to answer his challenge. Soon open fighting began. Aguinaldo had previously prepared for such a struggle.

          2. Against Aguinaldo's preferences, the initial struggle was fought by the Filipino Republican Army as a conventional war. Aguinaldo's ilustrado advisers believed that an army organized, trained and uniformed along European lines would demonstrate the Filipinos' high degree of civilization and lend legitimacy to their independence.

        C. The Conventional Phase (February-November 1899)

          1. Just made it easier for US forces to defeat them.

          2. Also, Filipino troops were not used to conventional tactics nor to fighting under centralized direction.

            a. 3000 Filipino casualties; 250 American.

          3. Americans captured temporary Filipino capital, drove Filipinos at will, but had too few troops (26,000) to occupy the countryside. By May 60% sickness rate in some units. Otis had to await massive reinforcements.

          4. In March 1899 Congress permanently raised RA strength to 65,000. In addition, Congress authorized raising of 35,000 volunteers exclusively for service in Philippines.

          5. With arrival of new forces, Americans renewed the offensive. An amphibious landing cut off the Republican Army and it was about to be crushed between two US pincers. The Republican Army broke up. US forces occupied Luzon.

        D. The Nonconventional Phase

          1. Aguinaldo--having narrowly escaped capture--now abandoned conventional tactics and turned to guerrilla warfare.

            a. This was far more successful. It was organized in a de-centralized fashion well-suited to Filipino political and social organization. Under such circumstances Aguinaldo could not retain operational control, but he remained a powerful symbol.

            b. Aim: to protract resistance, exhaust Americans, and hope that US public would demand a withdrawal.

            c. Placed great hopes on impending election of 1900. Hoped that anti-expansionist sentiment would put a Democrat in the White House.

          2. Filipino organization and tactics

            a. Combat units raised locally, divided into full-time guerrillas (partisans) and part-time guerrillas (militia). Operated in one or two fifty-man bands within a particular zone. Had base camps in barrios or mountain retreats.

              (1) Militia grew food for partisans, provided information, manned outposts and--perhaps most importantly--intimidated fellow villagers into paying taxes and keeping silent. Also provided recruits for partisans.

              (2) Partisans cut telegraph lines, ambushed troop and supply convoys, attacked towns that had accepted US rule.

            b. Supported by a shadow political government--administrators, tax collectors, sympathetic village leaders.

            c. critical ingredient--support of revolution by principales. In a deferential society their leadership made it difficult for peasants to resist appeals to joing guerrillas or pay taxes.

              (1) appeals to patriotism, religion also used.

              (2) When this failed--outright terrorism.

          3. Decentralized warfare both a strength and weakness. Filipinos conducted a hydra-headed resistance well-adapted to local conditions, but could not coordinate efforts to capitalize on success, sustain offensives.

      IV. Schoolbooks

        A. Progressive Influence

          1. American policymakers had confidence that they could win the allegiance of the Filipinos by showing them the virtues of the American way of life.

            a. Almost a naive confidence in the efficacy of this--and yet it did prove effective over time.

          2. Otis had soldiers teach children basics of literacy--although often classroom equipment consisted only of chalk and a poncho for a blackboard.

        B. "Hearts and Minds"

          1. Otis never really understood nature of struggle--considered military resistance at an end with collapse of conventional Filipino army; considered guerrillas mere bandits (a few of them were).

          2. Succeeded by Arthur MacArthur--Civil War boy wonder, father of Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had a much better sense of the political-military equation.

          3. After McKinley's reelection in November 1900, Filipinos somewhat disheartened, although resistance continued. From this point onward, US policy characterized by a combination of carrot and stick designed to detach guerrillas from population.

          4. Various methods used: continued reform, support for a moderate Filipino political party, population reconcentration, severe official policy toward guerrillas, better intell., bribes, innovative tactics.

        C. The Taft Policy

          1. William Howard Taft came to the Philippines in spring 1900, spent several months studying the situation with advisers, and in late August cabled to SecWar Root (at a cost of $40,000) his findings.

            a. Most Filipinos tired of war. McKinley's reelection would cause nationalist resistance to fizzle. Needed: a local constabulary, a new tax structure, public works, judicial reform and universal education in English.

          2. September 1900--Taft Commission assumes functions of a legislative body, with authority to raise taxes, appropriate funds, fix tariffs and set up law courts. Failed to carve out for Taft the post of Chief Executive--MacArthur still remained military governor--but steadily stripped MacArthur of political authority through control of pursestrings.

            a. Difficulties over command relationship. MacArthur touchy, jealous of prerogatives; e.g., when Taft arrived at Manila MacArthur declined to give up his residence at lavish Malacañang palace. Taft forced to rent a delapidated house in the suburbs.

            b. Taft eventually got SecWar Root to make him governor in July 1901.

          3. Certain reforms were unappreciated--rigorous public sanitation standards were suddenly invoked and natives were angered. Vices suppressed--drugs, gambling, prostitution.

            a. Courts and police were swift and honest and rough--a shock to Filipinos who were used to corrupt but pliant police forces.

            b. Taxes abolished or reduced but honest collection system antagionized many.

          4. Basic "policy of attraction"--induce elites to cooperate with Americans, create a credible native opposition to Aguinaldo. Over the long run, the participation of able Filipinos in the colonial administration would spare the US the stigma of outright imperialism. Policy would leave a deep imprint on Philippines--Filipinos essentially governed themselves under increasingly light US supervision.

          5. Late in 1900 Pardo de Tavera and other ilustrados founded the Partido Federal, popularly called Federalistas.

            a. Moderate, pro-American in orientation. Sought to modernize Philippines along progressive lines: Championed capitalism, separation of church and state, civil liberty and universal education. Believed no lasting self-government possible without a modern society and mature institutions.

            b. Looked to US as a kind of tutor; saw eventual period of constitutional rule with Filipino representation in Washington; even briefly sought statehood.

              (1) Elihu Root, 1904: "Gentlemen, I don't want to suggest an invidious comparison, but statehood for Filipinos would add another serious problem to the one we have already. The Negroes are a cancer on the body politic, a source of constant difficulty, and we wish to avoid developing another such problem."

              (2) This sort of patronizing attitude was death to the Federalist party. But by then the war was over.

      V. Krags

        A. Strict interpretation of GO 100 in December 1900. Approved by Taft for 2/3 of provinces under Army control. MacArthur urged massive effort before volunteers went home in 1901.

        1. Essence--guerrillas were beyond pale of conventional warfare. No POW status. Army would leave people alone if no combat. In case of guerrilla action, population held responsible. Villages burned, hostages taken. Captured guerrillas to be hanged. (Some were.)

        B. Reconcentration--population resettlement. Move rural population into large towns. Separate them physically and emotionally from guerrillas. Approved in 1901-1902.

        C. Severities: BG J. Franklin Bell in Batangas: "Neutrality should not be tolerated." Only those who positively assisted Americans regarded as guiltless. Prisoners to be executed by lot in retaliation for murder of Filipino loyalists and US soldiers.

          1. January 1902 sweep: American soldiers killed "men, women and children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people, from lads of ten and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino . . . was little better than a dog."

          2. Provoked by massacre of US company at Samar (Balangiga). 54 men killed, disemboweled, mutilated.

          3. Another response: BG Jacob W. Smith to a subordinate: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.

            a. Subordinate asked for an age limit. "Ten years."

            b. With some modifications, the subordinate did as instructed--systematically destroyed every village in his path.

            c. Episode created a sensation at home.

            d. Subordinate eventually court-martialed (Manila, March 1902); to save himself, he reluctantly told court of Smith's instructions. Witnesses corroborated his testimony.

            e. Smith tried instead; found guilty. Soldiers still considered him a hero, cheered him on arrival in San Francisco.

          4. Aguinaldo captured by Major Frederick Funston in March 1902. Daring clandestine mission. (Aguinaldo lived till 1964, just short of his 95th birthday. Made propaganda broadcasts for Japanese during WWII. Doesn't quite have status as national hero--lived too long for martyrdom.)

      VI. Conclusion

        A. TR declared rebellion over in July 1902, but serious revolts occurred in 1903-1906 on Luzon; Moro uprising in 1913.

        B. Comparison bet. Philippines and Vietnam.

          1. Caution should be used, but comparison useful in a frew respects.

          2. Answer not really to be found in counterinsurgency tactics. These, with allowances for local conditions and technological change, were similar.

        C. Absence of neutral sanctuaries an obvious contrast. Absence of other powers assisting Filipinos (although Japanese did supply minor support for anti-US propaganda among Filipinos exiled in Hong Kong).

        D. Chief elements: lack of good Filipino leadership, centralized direction. Aguinaldo was no Ho Chi Minh. Filipinos lacked Vietnamese sense of nationalism, common identity. Most importantly: Aguinaldo's program offered ordinary Filipinos even less than did Americans.

          1. Vietnamese promised substantive social and economic change.

          2. Aguinaldo offered little but independence. You can't eat independence. Courted rich provincial families; disinterested in even modest social or economic reforms.

          3. Some of his actions actually alienated commoners. Once broke a railway strike to placate railroad company, which in turn gave his regime 10% of its income. But this of course alienated workers.

            a. Maintained taxes at Spanish levels.

            b. Shut his eyes to local corruption--pocketing of taxes by mayors and cronies.

            c. Disregarded farmers who sought restitution of land seized from families by the Spanish.

        E. Epitaph already composed in Feb. 1899, shortly after war began. Aguinaldo supporter said: "We cannot conquer today, but we can hope to achieve victory tomorrow if the people are with us. If not, we will be defeated."

        F. Final cost: US: 4,234 dead, 2,818 wounded. Thousands later died of diseases contracted in Philippines.

          1. Filipinos: US claimed 20,000 native KIAs. As many as 200,000 other Filipinos died from famine and other causes, including atrocities.

            a. Number of carabao--crucial for Filipino agriculture--shrank by 90% during conflict.

        G. Basic US policy ultimately successful--period of tutelage eventually accepted by Filipinos. Relations improved dramatically over time. Gradual increase of self-government. Philippines given independence, 1946.

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