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120 years of the Filipino dream

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Memory fades. The foundation of many traditions and ceremonies was set as a way to revolt against this fallibility of our collective memories, an attempt to set in stone a history that we can no longer relate to.

For instance, we celebrate Independence Day every year as a way to commit to memory the fact that more than a century ago, the Philippines was still under colonial rule.

It took 300 years of colonization under Spain before the Philippines came to know independence. Emilio Aguinaldo, one of the luminaries of the Philippine Revolution, in the afternoon of June 12, 1898, took to the balcony of his estate in Cavite el Viejo, a place now known as Kawit, and proclaimed to a crowd of jubilant Filipinos that the country and all its people were free.

“For the first time, the Philippine National Flag, made in Hong Kong by Mrs. Marcela Agoncillo, assisted by Lorenza Agoncillo and Delfina Herboza, was officially hoisted and the Philippine National March played in public,” esteemed historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo wrote in his book History of the Filipino People.

“The Act of the Declaration of Independence was prepared by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, who also read it. A passage in the Declaration reminds one of another passage in the American Declaration of Independence. The Philippine Declaration was signed by 98 persons, among them an American army officer who witnessed the proclamation.”

It had been hard won proclamation, and perhaps, as some historians would note, largely premature. Aguinaldo believed, according to Mr. Agoncillo’s book, that such a move would inspire the people to fight more eagerly against the Spaniards and at the same time, lead the foreign countries to recognize the independence of the country. That did not come to pass.

During the Spanish-American War, Aguinaldo led Filipino revolutionaries alongside US troops to oust the Spanish, but when the war had ended, the United States formally annexed the Philippines as part of its peace treaty with Spain.

“On August 8, the Spanish commander informed the United States that he would surrender the city under two conditions: The United States was to make the advance into the capital look like a battle, and under no conditions were the Filipino rebels to be allowed into the city,” the History cable network wrote on its Web site.

“On August 13, the mock Battle of Manila was staged, and the Americans kept their promise to keep the Filipinos out after the city passed into their hands.”

With his dreams of leading an independent nation dashed, Aguinaldo gathered a revolutionary assembly to draw up a democratic constitution — the first ever in Asia. He assumed the presidency of the newly formed government in January 1899, and started a campaign against the new colonizers. On Feb. 4, the Philippine-American war against the United States had begun.

Abroad two days later, the US Senate voted by one vote to ratify the Treaty of Paris with Spain. The Philippines was now officially a part of US territory, acquired in exchange for $20 million in compensation to the Spanish.

The war was disastrously one-sided. According to History, Filipino rebels, using mostly inferior weaponry compared to the Americans, were consistently defeated in the open field, and eventually turned to guerrilla warfare. The US Congress then authorized the deployment of 60,000 troops to subdue them.

“By the end of 1899, there were 65,000 US troops in the Philippines, but the war dragged on. Many anti-imperialists in the United States, such as Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, opposed US annexation of the Philippines, but in November 1900, Republican incumbent William McKinley was reelected, and the war continued,” the History network wrote.

“On March 23, 1901, in a daring operation, US General Frederick Funston and a group of officers, pretending to be prisoners, surprised Aguinaldo in his stronghold in the Luzon village of Palanan and captured the rebel leader.”

Aguinaldo surrendered, took an oath of allegiance to the United States and called for an end to the rebellion. Many of his followers ignored this, forsaking the defeated general, and fought on, not knowing that the war was only going to get bloodier as it went on.

In November 1901, the Manila correspondent of the Philadelphia Ledger wrote, “The present war is no bloodless, opera bouffe engagement; our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people from lads of ten up, the idea prevailing that the Filipino as such was little better than a dog…”

The History network noted one infamous episode where US forces on the island of Samar retaliated against the massacre of a US garrison by killing all men on the island above the age of 10.

“Many women and young children were also butchered. General Jacob Smith, who directed the atrocities, was court-martialed and forced to retire for turning Samar, in his words, into a ‘howling wilderness,’” History wrote.

In his book, Mr. Agoncillo noted that the Filipino troops were not above committing similar atrocities. In some cases, ears and noses were cut off and salt applied to the wounds, while in others, prisoners of war were buried alive. These atrocities occurred regardless of Aguinaldo’s orders and circulars concerning the good treatment of prisoners.

Overall, historical estimates put the total Filipino rebel casualties at more than 20,000. In comparison, over 4,000 American forces perished in the war. To this day, the number of civilian casualties remains a matter of debate, with modern estimates putting the figures as high as 200,000 to 1,500,000 total Filipino civilians dead due to violence and disease.

An American civil government took over administration of the Philippines in 1902, and the three-year “Philippine insurrection” was declared to be at an end. In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established with US approval, and Manuel L. Quezon was elected as the country’s first President. Then on July 4, 1946, the United States finally granted the Philippines’ full independence.

In 1962, President Diosdado P. Macapagal issued Proclamation No. 28 moving the Independence Day celebration back to June 12.

This day is an effort to commemorate the many Filipinos who fought, died, and were tortured for the Filipino dream, as well as the Filipinos who suffered over three centuries of unjust rule under the Spaniards. May we never forget. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran