How Did America Enter the Picture?

America’s war with Spain, which arose because of the concern of the United States about conditions in Cuba, brought Commodore Dewey to Manila in May 1898, to destroy the Spanish fleet. The bold undertaking met with brilliant success. At first the Filipinos aided the Americans in the effort to rid the islands of Spain, believing that their own freedom would thus be assured. They proceeded to organize their own “Republic of the Philippines” under the leadership of General Emilio Aguinaldo and other patriots who had headed the revolution against Spain.

By the Treaty of Paris, signed in December 1898, Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the United States. Contrary to Filipino expectations, America began to make plans for the government of the country. The Americans knew that the small group of revolutionary leaders and budding statesmen in the Philippines had had little or no political or administrative experience. And they considered the Filipino people, lacking education and political training, were by no means ready for a popular government. They did not favor replacing Spanish domination with a form of Filipino autocracy. Before self-government could have any meaning here, they thought a period of economic and political development, of education for democracy, was necessary. And, as already suggested, mixed up with this altruism was a large element of private self-interest, of economic and political imperialism.

Filipino leaders felt they had been betrayed. In their view America had used them and their arms to drive out the Spaniards and now meant to take the Spaniards’ place. The revolutionists rallied their forces in the provinces and an insurrection against the Americans was begun in February 1899. It lasted for three years, during which time the United States Army and the outside world learned much about the fierceness, tenacity, and effectiveness of Filipino guerrilla operations. In their three years of occupation, the Japanese, too, have learned much about Philippine guerrillas.

The new American broom

American rule in the islands was so different from Spain’s that it won the people’s support as soon as they were convinced of our real intentions. President McKinley sent a commission of five Americans to the Philippines to advise Washington on policy. Shortly after their arrival in 1899, the commission issued an important proclamation. It set forth the principle, described in the president’s instructions to the second commission, that the government was designed “for the happiness, peace and prosperity of the people of the Philippine Islands.”

Filipinos were given a share in their government from the very beginning, especially in local affairs. In 1907, an assembly of eighty Filipinos was elected to share in the task of legislation with the commission, to which body three Filipino members were later added. In 1913, further appointments were made to give Filipinos a majority on the commission. Filipinos served on the Supreme Court, along with Americans, all during the American regime. In the lower courts, more and more Filipinos came to serve as judges. After 1913, civil service in the islands was rapidly Filipinized.

With the passage of the Jones Law in the United States Congress in 1916 an important reorganization of the government took place. The law provided a constitution for the Philippine government and established a two-house legislature with almost complete legislative authority, subject only to the governor general’s veto.

Most significant was the preamble to the Jones Law. It stated that America’s purpose in helping the Filipino people was so that they might “by the use and exercise of popular franchise and governmental powers . . . be the better prepared to fully assume the responsibilities and enjoy all the privileges of complete independence.”

Results of this policy could be seen at the time of the first World War. The Philippine legislature in 1917 passed a resolution voicing the “loyalty of the people of these Islands to the cause of the United States of America.” Many Filipinos enlisted in the United States Army, and the islands showed their loyalty in many other ways.

How were American politics involved?

The interplay of American politics was apparent in the Philippines. The governors general were appointed by the president of the United States and with every change in the administration in Washington there was a change in the governor’s office. This often meant the sacrifice of years of study and experience on the part of the outgoing governor and prevented the development of a consistent policy in island administration.

A particularly liberal period followed the appointment of Francis Burton Harrison by President Wilson. It was during his governorship that the Jones Law was passed, and Harrison went far in Filipinizing the government. Abuses crept into the civil service, and corruption developed in the financial affairs of the country, although Harrison himself cannot be held personally responsible for any of these evils.

With the change of administration in Washington, in 1920, General Leonard Wood and former Governor General W. Cameron Forbes were sent to study conditions in the Philippines. Wood became governor general and set about to correct some of the weaknesses that had developed in the preceding eight years. Through the generous use of the veto power, he restored to a considerable extent the authority of the governor general and worked hard to give the country an honest, efficient government. Quite naturally he was never popular among the Filipinos. During the seven years after his term, the movement for independence was accelerated, ending in the passage of the Independence (Tydings-McDuffie) Act in 1934.

Until that time, our entire policy in the Philippines had been uncertain on the question of eventual independence. In one respect, however, it had been consistent. The succeeding governors had carried out, with the changes in emphasis noted, the policy set forth by the first governor general, William Howard Taft—that of governing the islands for the welfare of the people and of gradually extending to them a greater measure of self-government. In all fairness it may be said that American officials in the Philippine Islands established a record of honest administration.