When Aguinaldo visited Singapore
Since 2008 a historical marker planted in the Asian Civilizations Museum Green has informed citizens and tourists about Jose Rizal’s four visits to Singapore. Since 2008 I have wondered if we could propose a second historical marker. Unlike Rizal’s visits that were stopovers in his voyages between Manila and Europe, Emilio Aguinaldo’s was not a shopping vacation: He sailed to Singapore to elude a lawsuit filed against him in Hong Kong by Isabelo Artacho and other revolucionarios who sought to get their greedy hands on funds kept in trust in the Chartered Bank and the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp.
US Consul E. Spencer Pratt met with Aguinaldo during his visit and promised him the independence of the Philippines in exchange for his assistance in the war against Spain. Something was obviously lost in the translation. Aguinaldo spoke no English and Pratt spoke neither Tagalog nor Spanish, so they communicated through a certain Howard Bray who seemed to have misled both sides. To cut a long story short, Pratt arranged to have Aguinaldo return to the Philippines on board a US cruiser to reestablish himself in Cavite and resume the Philippine revolution. US Commodore George Dewey, in later investigations, asserted that he had not sought Aguinaldo’s assistance and had actually sailed for Manila without him. Dewey even described Aguinaldo and the Filipinos as “pests.”
In the early evening of June 8, 1898, days before independence from Spain was declared from the window of Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite, a group of Filipinos in Singapore serenaded Consul Pratt. They thanked him in song and in a speech in French for America’s moral and material support for Aguinaldo. The Pinoys remarked that the US consulate was simply furnished, and beside a small American flag on Pratt’s desk they placed a small framed portrait of Aguinaldo.
Consul Pratt’s response, as recorded in the Singapore press, read in part:
“Today we have the news of the brilliant achievements of your own distinguished leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo, cooperating on land with the Americans at sea. You have just reason to be proud of what has been and is being accomplished by General Aguinaldo and your fellow countrymen under his command. When, six weeks ago, I learned that General Aguinaldo arrived incognito in Singapore, I immediately sought him out. An hour’s interview convinced me that he was the man for the occasion, and having communicated with Admiral Dewey, I accordingly arranged for him to join the latter, which he did at Cavite. The rest you know.”
Immediately after the serenade Pratt wrote Aguinaldo requesting a souvenir of the Fall of Manila — the flag or keys of the Spanish walled city of Intramuros. Pratt informed the US State Department of his dealings with Aguinaldo, expecting praise or perhaps a promotion. Instead, he received a firm rebuke on June 17, 1898, that read: “Avoid unauthorized negotiations with Philippine insurgents.”
Furthermore, Pratt also received a very long written rebuke from the US Secretary of State that said in part:
“…This Government has known the Philippine Insurgents only as discontented and rebellious subjects of Spain, and is not acquainted with their purposes. While their contest with that power has been a matter of public notoriety, they have neither asked nor received from this Government any recognition.”
He was also told that the United States would not recognize any claims made by Aguinaldo based on their conversations: “Your action was unauthorized and cannot be approved.”
Pratt was later dismissed from the US consular service but he did not make this clear to Aguinaldo. He even offered to work for US recognition of the Philippine government. Aguinaldo not only agreed to this proposal, he even considered offering Pratt a position in Philippine Customs as well as commercial privileges when his government was recognized.
Last week as the US Embassy celebrated its National Day, I looked back to 1898 to remember how the Philippines passed from one colonial experience (Spain) to another (United States), and how it took a while for the independence won in 1898 to be returned to the Filipinos on July 4, 1946.
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