The road to our country’s independence and nationhood in 1898 was pockmarked with the naïveté, bitter rivalries and petty bickering of the revolution’s foremost actors, weaknesses that the American colonizers exploited to further their imperialist agenda in Southeast Asia.
But the biggest roadblock to Philippine sovereignty was the duplicitous face that American officials turned to the leaders of the Philippine Revolution.
In Henri Turot’s incisive narrative of the Philippine Revolution “Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins,” which was published in Paris in 1900, the French journalist noted that the US scheme to colonize the Philippines commenced even before the Spanish-American War was declared, with American emissaries negotiating with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo in March 1898.
Turot wrote that the commander of the Petrel, one of the vessels in the squadron of US Adm. George Dewey, strongly urged Aguinaldo “to return to the Philippines and resume hostilities against the Spaniards, promising the assistance of the United States if war broke out against Spain.”
To assuage his doubts on America’s sincerity, Aguinaldo asked the commander what the United States would do in favor of the Philippines. Turot stated that the response was noncommittal: “‘The United States,’ replied the commander, ‘is a big and rich nation and does not need a colony.’”
Negotiations were further pursued during Aguinaldo’s sojourn in Singapore on April 21, 1898, by US Consul Spencer Pratt: “During this interview, Consul Pratt said that since the Spaniards did not comply with their promises in the treaty of Biak-na-Bato, the Filipinos had the right to continue the revolution that was suspended by the agreement that was concluded … (A)fter pressing Aguinaldo to renew hostilities against the Spaniards, he gave him assurances that the US (would) grant more liberty and material advantages to the Filipinos which the Spaniards never promised them.”
Turot wrote that Aguinaldo and Consul Pratt had agreed on 13 points to guarantee the US intentions of respecting Philippine sovereignty. Four of the most significant were:
Emilio Aguinaldo’s narration of the events published in “Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina” (True Version of the Philippine Revolution), stated that Consul Pratt was evasive of the US acquiescence to the agreement and telegraphed Admiral Dewey for advice: “Between 10 or 12 in the forenoon of the next day, the conference was renewed and Mr. Pratt then informed me that the admiral had sent him a telegram in reply to the wish I had expressed for an agreement in writing. He said the admiral’s reply was that the United States would at least recognize the independence of the Philippines under the protection of the United States Navy.
The Consul added that there was no necessity for entering into a formal written agreement because the word of the admiral and of the United States consul were in fact equivalent to the most solemn pledge, that their verbal promises and assurance would be fulfilled to the letter and were not to be classed with Spanish promises or Spanish ideas of a man’s word of honor. In conclusion the consul said, ‘The government of North America is a very honest, just, and powerful government.’”
On his arrival in the Philippines on May 19, 1898, aboard the ship McCulloch, Aguinaldo recounted that he was immediately conveyed to Admiral Dewey’s flagship Olympia, where Dewey continued to assure him that “…the United States had come to the Philippines to protect the natives and free them from the yoke of Spain. He said, moreover, that America is exceedingly well off as regards territory, revenue and resources and therefore needs no colonies, assuring me finally that there was no occasion for me to entertain any doubts whatever about the recognition of the independence of the Philippines by the United States.”
Even after the declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898, Admiral Dewey, during a visit to Aguinaldo in Cavite a month later, would point out: “Have faith in my word, and I assure you that the United States will recognize the independence of the country. But I recommend you to keep a good deal of what we have said and agreed secret at present…”
As history would show, the promises uttered by the American official would turn out to be empty and facetious, a ploy to gain the Filipinos’ support to hasten the defeat of the Spanish colonizers.
A few months later, the Philippine-American War would erupt, resulting in the death of roughly 20,000 Filipino soldiers, 200,000 Filipino civilians and 4,000 American soldiers.
Never was there a greater price paid for the false words of a mighty nation determined to accomplish its imperialist ambitions.