The Philippines: Its Hard-fought for Independence

If it were not reverted to June 12 in 1962 by the late President Diosdado P. Maca­pagal with the passage of Republic Act 4166 by Congress, Filipinos to this day would still be celebrating Independence Day on July 4, twelve hours before Americans wake up to it.

The Philippines gained independence from the United States on July 4, 1946 as promised on Aug. 29, 1916 in the Jones Law, which was amended in March 24, 1934 by the Tydings-McDuffie Law. Were it not for the outbreak of World War II which drew an unprepared Philippines, the Filipinos would have gained yet another independence from foreign rule earlier.

For it did gain its independence from Spain after a revolution that began in 1896, which in truth turned out to be a mere culmination of a series of 41 recorded revolts from 1574 to 1888—not including a revolt waged by Princess Urduja in Pangasinan whose army fought the Spaniards from 1680 to 1692. This is according to Bobby Reyes who claims in his blog that “July 4 is the Philippines’ true independence.” Going by his account, the Filipinos hardly submitted to foreign rule, and that includes the brief British occupation.

It is a known fact that fifty years before America granted the Philippines its independence, the country has already proclaimed it on June 12, 1898. This happened on the balcony of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite; among the revolutionary leaders who had died in the wake of separate fierce fighting, General Aguinaldo survived with an even bigger following. The Philippine flag was first raised on that day and the national anthem, played.

That day supposedly ended 300 years of foreign domination by the Spaniards. But apparently, in an event larger than the sphere of politics the Filipinos could grasp, Spain in its defeat during the Spanish-American War waged in Latin America “ceded the Philippines to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, in consideration for an indemnity for Spanish expenses and assets lost.” The Americans controlled the Walled City of Intramuros after their May 1, 1898 naval victory at Manila Bay, also called the Battle of Manila Bay but more commonly dismissed as a ‘mock battle’.

Still in January 1, 1899 Aguinaldo was declared President of the Philippines — the only president of what would be later called the First Philippine Republic. He later organized a Congress to draft a constitution. But tensions between the Philippine and the American governments continued because of the conflicting movements for independence and colonization, aggravated by the feelings of betrayal on the part of Aguinaldo. The Malolos Congress declared war on the United States on June 2, 1899, with Pedro Paterno, President of Congress, issuing a Proclamation of War.

The war officially ended on July 4, 1902. However, remnants of the Philippine Army, and other resistance groups continued hostilities against American rule until 1913. The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described in some accounts as “a genocide” and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).

During that two-year period, U.S. President William McKinley reiterated “the intention of the United States Government to establish and organize government—essentially popular in form—in the municipal and provincial administrative divisions of the Philippine Islands. In line with this, he confers upon the Second Philippine Commission, headed by William Howard Taft, the authority to exercise the legislative power of government beginning 1 September 1900.”

In the Letter of Instruction dated April 7, 1900 sent through Elihu Root, Secretary of War and transmitted to the Congress on the December 5, 1899, McKinley said, speaking of the Philippine Islands: “As long as the insurrection continues the military arm must necessarily be supreme. But there is no reason why steps should not be taken from time to time to inaugurate governments essentially popular in their form as fast as territory is held and controlled by our troops. To this end I am considering the advisability of the return of the commission, or such of the members thereof as can be secured, to aid the existing authorities and facilitate this work throughout the islands.”

In the wake of World War II where Filipinos and Americans fought a fierce war against the Japanese, representatives of the United States of America and of the Republic of the Philippines signed a Treaty of General Relations between the two governments. The treaty provided “for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines as of July 4, 1946, and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.”

To this day as America’s skies blossom, boom, and pop with pyrotechnics, debates often rage among Filipinos as to which date—June 12, 1898 or July 4, 1946—marks the Philippines’ true independence.