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American Colony

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The Americans entered the scene because of its conflict with Spain over Cuba. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American war in the Pacific, the Philippines had to be taken by the US, lest other European countries such as Britain, France and Germany would fight for their next Southeast Asian colony. On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo, first backed by American forces, declared the independence of Kawit, Cavite, the seat of the revolutionary Filipino government at that time, from Spanish rule. The Americans took possession of Manila on August 13, 1898.

While armed clashes with Spanish forces continued in other parts of the country, the Americans and the Spaniards were negotiating for the purchase of the Philippines for US$20 million. In the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the US.

Filipinos felt insulted at the fact that their country has been passed from one colonial master to another for only US$20 million. When the US, which had not conquered any country before, made known its intention to succeed Spain as the next colonizer of the Philippines, Aguinaldo and his men waged a revolutionary resistance that ended with his capture in March 1901. The American soldiers easily subdued the remaining factions of rebellion with the help of their powerful weapons and their divide-and-conquer tactic.

As an archipelago of 7,000 islands, the Philippines is home to different ethnic groups which do not speak the same language. The national government’s attempt to declare Tagalog (spoken in Central and Southern Luzon including Metro Manila) as the national language would not easily win the support of other regions.

The Philippine-American war took the lives of 4,234 American and 16,000 Filipino soldiers. The death toll was much higher on the civilian population, with as high as 200,000 casualties. Although local resistance persisted until 1903, the US ended its military rule on July 4, 1901.

American Way

Under American civilian rule, the Philippines was introduced to US-type of education, Protestant religion, and later to the concept of democracy. Placed under US control were most parts of the country, except in the southern portion of Mindanao where Muslim rebels held strong resistance.

William Howard Taft, the 27th US president, was the first American Civil Governor in the Philippines. Taft was praised for establishing a civil service system, creating a national legislature, suppressing prices, upgrading health standards, and sponsoring land reform and road building in the country.

In 1907, the First Philippine Assembly composed of educated and rich Filipinos with vast landholdings. Manuel L. Quezon, who represented the Philippines in the US Congress, lobbied for the passage of the Jones Law, which in 1916 abolished the Philippine Assembly to give way for a bicameral legislature made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

With the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, Filipinos had their first taste of self-rule through the Philippine Commonwealth, a transitional government designed to prepare the Filipinos over a ten-year period for independence. By 1935, the Commonwealth was in place with Quezon as its first president. The Philippines also approved a new constitution in the same year.

The United States is credited for helping establish the Republic of the Philippines, the first democratic government in Asia. Economically, the Philippines was ahead of its Asian neighbours, who were still subjects of European colonial powers before the war.

Japanese Invasion

In December 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines and drove the Commonwealth Government from Manila. While Quezon continued to head the government-in-exile until his death in New York in August 1944, the Japanese forces handpicked Jose P. Laurel, a graduate of Yale University and Tokyo International University, to head a new government under their control.

The Philippines was dragged into the war because of Japan’s military ambition to become the dominant force in Asia and the Pacific. Japan wanted to be the leader of an economic zone in East Asia, which would be the source of its raw materials. The US presence in the Philippines, known for its strategic location in Southeast Asia, was the largest threat to the Japanese forces, following the destruction of the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

While the American forces were regrouping in the United States, Filipino soldiers formed a guerrilla organization called Hukbalahap (People's Anti-Japanese Army). Some 30,000 guerrillas at that time engaged the Japanese army in intermittent clashes. The Hukbalahap would later adopt the communist ideology and rule in the countryside.

Meanwhile, Sergio Osmeña replaced Quezon as the head of the government-in-exile and joined General Douglas MacArthur in the liberation of Manila. General MacArthur returned to the Philippines via the island province of Leyte, along with 174,000 army and navy servicemen on October 20, 1944.

The liberation of Manila took almost 20 days from February 3 to 23, 1945 and the fierce battle destroyed much of the city, with its ruins now often compared to the ruins of Warsaw, Poland in Europe. The Japanese army, however, continued to fight in the provinces, until September 2, 1945 when General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya who was believed to have hidden vast amount of treasures during the war, surrendered in Baguio City.

It is estimated that the battle of Manila cost the lives of 1 million Filipinos, 300,000 Japanese and 60,000 Americans. The intensity of the US-Japan war would force the former to drop an atomic bomb in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and in Nagasaki three days later.

US Bases

By February 1945, Osmeña restored the Commonwealth in the Philippines but it was only on July 4, 1946 that the US granted the Philippines its independence, coinciding with the celebration of the Independence Day in America.

However, US military bases would remain in the country for the next 45 years. On March 14, 1947, Manila and Washington signed the Treaty of General Relation, which provided the US to construct military bases for a lease period of 99 years. In 1959, the agreement was amended to shorten the lease period until 1991, after which both sides were to renegotiate the contract.

When the US sought a ten-year extension of the lease period in 1991, the Philippine Senate, led by Senate President Jovito Salonga, rejected the proposal in a historic casting of vote on September 16, ending US military bases in the country.

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