Public Lives



When General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, he had only the vaguest idea of how to proceed to establish a self-governing nation. The act was mainly the initiative of the military chiefs of the revolution. Missing was the civilian component. It fell on Apolinario Mabini to work out what a people must do next after proclaiming their emancipation from colonial rule.

Oddly enough, Aguinaldo and Mabini met for the first time on the day of the proclamation itself. While still in exile in Hong Kong, Aguinaldo had heard of this bright lawyer who seemed to be familiar not just with the theory and justification of anticolonial revolutions, but also with the establishment of a new government in the wake of a revolution. Summoned to Cavite, the paralytic Mabini arrived in Kawit on a hammock on June 12, totally clueless that independence was to be proclaimed that same day.

He thought that the declaration was “premature and imprudent.” In his brilliant book, “Mabini and the Philippine Revolution,” Cesar Adib Majul wrote that Mabini came to this conclusion after asking Aguinaldo for documents containing the supposed understandings between him and the American consuls in Singapore. Aguinaldo could not show him anything because there was none. From this, Mabini inferred that it was just a matter of time before the war with the Americans would break out.

A strategic thinker with a sharp sense of anticipation, Mabini thought that a public declaration of independence would make the Americans even more wary of helping the Filipino revolutionaries purchase arms for the war against Spain. He was right. But, as importantly, Mabini also thought that a proclamation of independence that did not actively involve the civilian community would have no popular basis, and therefore would be lacking in legitimacy.

Working alongside Aguinaldo from the first day they met, Mabini set out to make the best of a situation that could not be reversed.  This meant, first of all, laying down the legal foundations for the new government. While the June 12 proclamation had given Aguinaldo dictatorial powers, it was the series of decrees Mabini drafted and which were promulgated on June 18, 20, and 23 that gave the revolution its shape and direction.

Majul wrote: “The Decree of June 18, 1898 established the Dictatorship.  Since the Dictatorship was replaced by the Revolutionary Government within less than a week, its importance lies in its serving as the basis for the establishment of municipal and provincial governments, and also for the formation of the Revolutionary Congress.  Together with the Decree of June 20, 1898, it served as the electoral law of the Revolution.”

Participation in the local elections carried with it the requirement that the electors and the elected officials commit themselves to the independence of the country. While these exercises were dominated by the ilustrados to the extent that they explicitly invited the participation of the “inhabitants most distinguished by their education, social position, and honorable conduct,” it was clear in Mabini’s mind that this was the best way to avert the fragmentation of the revolution along class lines. Of course, this created opportunities for counterrevolutionary elements to infiltrate the revolution. But Mabini thought it was a gamble worth taking since the revolutionary army was, after all, safely in the hands of volunteers from the peasant masses.

The June 23 proclamation is particularly significant. While its main point is the establishment of the revolutionary government, O.D. Corpuz regarded it as a “revised declaration of independence.”  Far more eloquent than the June 12 proclamation, it contains no reference whatsoever to any quest for protection from the United States. This is in stark contrast to the June 12 declaration, which invokes “the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation, the United States of America.”  The June 23 document bears all the marks of Mabini’s distinct social philosophy.  Here, he describes the Filipino people as embarked on the creation of a free society, “taking reason as the only standard for their acts, justice as the only end, and honest work as the only means.”

On Aug. 3, 1898, the various elected chiefs of the local governments established in the territories under the control of the revolution were assembled to sign a document ratifying the country’s independence. At around the same time, the Americans were accepting the surrender of the Spanish forces, completely oblivious of the fact that it was the Filipino revolutionaries and not they who were holding thousands of Spaniards prisoners.

A few months later, in October 1898, negotiations for a peace treaty between the United States and Spain began. The talks excluded the Filipinos. Here, the Americans demanded the total cession of the islands to America. Spain initially opposed the idea, but later relented after it was offered a one-time payment of $20 million. In February the following year, the Philippine-American War that Mabini had presciently anticipated began.

It was a savage war that scandalized American intellectuals like Mark Twain who, until then, had thought of their country as a beacon of liberty and freedom for all subjugated nations. The American colonizers sought to erase memories of that war from the Filipino psyche by giving us back our independence on July 4, 1946.  But, we owe it to our heroes and to our children that we continue to remember.

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  • kolambogan

    During my high school days, our history teacher intimated to us that the Spaniards did not want to surrender and talk the terms of their surrender with the Filipino patriots and leader of the Philippine revolution who they thought were uneaqual or stiil not worthy of their exalted estimation of themselves as outgoing masters even in defeat. So they chose to talk the terms with the interloper U.S forces under Admiral George Dewey who were willing to hi-jack the Filipinos aspirations of freeing itself from Spanish rule for it’s own plan of colonization, and the rest is history.

    • ApoNiLolo

      See how history is sometimes corrupted by people who likes to insert their own version of events. Your teacher was one of them. It was the Americans who refused the Filipino entry into Manila, effectively putting the “terms of surrender” between them and the Spaniards without Filipino involvement.

      • kolambogan

        There’s no denying that history can be corrupted following the saying “To the victor belongs the spoils of war”. My teacher has nothing to gain in doing so, at least she provided some form of discussions (as I said intimated), which if I remembered right was very heated during those times. Everything I had learned from school, I still followed up with my readings up to this days and to anyone who’s interested in history nothing can top that. It could be that the Americans dictated the terms but, how can the Americans prevented the patriots on their own soil? As I remembered my history the Filipino revolutionaries were the ground forces (which is obvious) and the Americans were just the fleet blockading Manila bay. It still weeks or months yet before a strong contingent of ground troops arrived for the eventual take-over of the country. Hence, if the Filipinos pursued relentlessly their siege of the Spaniards they could have gotten them to surrender to themselves, But the Spaniards, seek to surrender to the interloper, it could be that the Filipinos thought that the Americans were friends helping them against a common enemy (naive at present standards) that they conceded to theirs and the country’s disadvantage and the rest is history. One thing more, probably one of the reason why Bonifacio must have to go for He could have been one stumbling block against the hijackers of the revolution.

      • conway

        On your previous statement about your teacher’s intimation, it was a highly subjective and purely speculative view. Not that there is anything wrong with speculating per se, but it’s the kind of speculation that reeks of nationalism colored with xenophobia.

        We may rue the fact that Spain chose to surrender to the US. But under the circumstances, it was the most rational choice for her. It was better for Spain, or any country for that matter, to concede defeat to a co-equal state than to a bunch of revolutionaries.

      • kolambogan

        We could be speculating then as provided by our teachers input, but within so many theories and interjections probably lies some of the hidden truths, which nobody can prove. But the fact remains if there was no Bonifacio who started a wider revolution Spain would have not weakened so fast that put Adm. Dewey’s mission like a stroll in the park. What’s wrong with Nationalism? Xenophobia, I guess you don’t know Filipinos, the Filipinos were never xenophobic, they accepted foreigners with open arms showing hospitality almost all the time, never shove them away and even love , which was one of their faults, that ended, them always being manipulated or taken advantage of.

        There’s no point ruing Spain by choosing to surrender to the US, as it could be explained by my original statement, the US hi-jacked the Philippine revolution and Spain was a willing participant to the hi-jacking for his own sake and for no other reason, for no conceived master will ever surrender or bow to their former slaves without force (remember the French Revolution most aristocrats and the ruling members of the monarchy were guillotined by their own bunch of peasant revolutionaries? England during the American Revolution, still considered George Washington as a subject in spite of the fact that Mr. Washington was already an avowed American and no longer owed her any allegiance. Spain the former masters of the Filipinos were humbled in the face of the world by their former slaves with or without the Americans who just came in the last hour.

        As I construe your co-equal statement is that you probably meant both foreign expansionist, wealth speculators, colonizers, European and Western educated war freaks and never co-equal with the Asians (especially the Philippines) they plundered and intended to manipulate.

  • rderni

    During those times, the US liked to criticize the European colonial powers for their imperialistic drive. Not only did they act hypocritically, they betrayed the very spirit of their constitution by promising a newly-born nation their support, then backstabbing and brutalizing the Filipinos who only yearned for independence and freedom.

    A lot of people like to simply dismiss or gloss over this regrettable episode, but it should always be remembered that we will never truly know who we are as a nation unless we know our history.

  • SatansDisciple

    The politics then was not different as it is today. If Aguinaldo and Mabini thinks they can duplicate George Washington and Ben Franklin, they know it can’t be done the American is already in their doorstep. But somehow they succeeded in destroying their political enemies to take credit of greatness but Emilio miscalculate the psyche of the new colonial power. 115 years of so called Independence is full of Misery from Aguinaldo to Aquino. Should the Filipinos itself is to blame.

  • brunogiordano

    “On Aug. 3, 1898, the various elected chiefs of the local governments established in the territories under the control of the revolution were assembled to sign a document ratifying the country’s independence.”

    Dito nag simula ang marami natin mga ganid na lider na mga corrupt.

  • kayanatwo


    nobody asked me, but….what if aguinaldo did not order the execution of the bonifacio brothers, and what if it was andres bonifacio that won the election during the tejeros convention.

    we probably could have a very different situations in our geopolitical and socioeconomic today, after we kicked the spaniards out and then fought with the american later on.

    • chrissunner

      nobody will ask you, not now, not tomorrow, not ever. so stop saying that and get to the point.

      • Filpino

        i ask so what?

    • Filpino

      if bonifacio still around after the declaration of independence, maybe Gen. Antonio Luna will be leading the Filipino troops against the Americans and Pres. Andres Bonifacio will be fight the filipino traitors and the ilustrados.

  • AlzheimersC

    I’m just wondering why there are no ranches(haciendas) who were partly or totally owned by the Americans knowing fully well that they had the Philippines as their territory?

    Except in Mindanao where we can find banana and pineapple plantations run by American corporations… and Mindanao was still not under the total control of the Spaniards, so to the Americans its a FREE frontier to exploit just like when they took the vast prairies from the native Americans…

    Philippines is priceless, and so is Puerto Rico and Cuba but why did the Spaniards let them go EASILY at the measly amount of 20 million dollars? Do you think the Spaniards can still buy another territory with the same amount however “small” it is? To replace what they had lost?

    Because I think there was a compromise agreement in exchange for that aside from monetary compensation and that was the ABSOLUTE protection of Spanish properties in its former colonies by the Americans!!

    The Filipino-American war was a necessary means to honor that agreement…What do you think the Filipino revolutionaries will do if they had the absolute power over these properties( haciendas, businesses etc) of the surrendering Spaniards and its dependents?

    • kolambogan

      To answer your question on your last paragraph, nothing happened to the colonizers and their properties in epic proportion in the way of revolutions and so the original collaborators were amply or should I say richly rewarded the effects of which flourished to the present day, while those who resisted the new dispensation where just murdered in the so called Fil-American war/insurrection/another revolution by the hundreds of thousands to justify the agreement between the previous oppressor and plunderer Spain and the new Western masters.

      • AlzheimersC

        My thoughts exactly! :)

  • conway

    That it was Spain, and not Aguinaldo’s self-declared government, that entered into a treaty with the US is the reason why the US treats the PH-US war as simply an insurrection. No PH sovereign state resulted from Aguinaldo’s proclamation since no one in the community of nations recognized it.

    Aguinaldo merely proclaimed independence from Spain, which did not necessarily mean that the PH territory under his government acquired sovereignty. To say otherwise is like admitting that a declaration of Mindanao independence by Moro actually resulted to the creation of an independent Mindanao state.

    Aguinaldo sent representatives to foreign states to solicit recognition for his government but nobody gave it. The community of nations at that time including the US continued to recognize Spain as having the legal power over PH. Hence, eventually it was Spain that entered into a treaty with the US and that same treaty became one of the basis of the present PH territory even though that treaty came after the June 12 Aguinaldo proclamation of independence from Spain.

    • kolambogan

      Going back to the reason why the US waged war with Spain it’s worth noting that the skirmishes compared to present standards could be termed pockets or small battles with colonized countries like Mexico, Cuba and the Philippines, but never with mainland Spain. It’s just like a man on his prime taking candy from a boy or an old lady, knowing that Spain was already on it’s way down and can no longer sustain it’s old might.

      As an emerging global power it must have to flex it’s muscle and let the world know of the new kid on the block. Aguinaldo and his cabal’s folly, served them well, they set the weakening and easy onslaught of the Philippines stand against a new master for it’s quest to be free (meaning free of any foreign domination) by decimating their co-revolutionaries who could have provided needed impetus and leadership.

      Always weakened by regional differences and each region or tribe aspiring to be the most important and conceived powerful among the others, the Philippines was doomed the moment their own leaders who started the revolution fell one by one in the hands of their own, the US only had to finish what Aguinaldo and his men had started.

      Insurrection, revolution or by any other term is so immaterial what the Philippines had shown was the capacity to resist foreign domination and the only thing that matters. Our ancestors fought and cost them their lives, seeking recognition from other countries who have not even heard of our land was just one of Aguinaldo’s justification for his blunder (what’s the need, to honor an agreement between a previous plunderer to a new manipulator?) what mattered at that time was that were free, even for a fleeting moment and he (Aguinaldo) whose greed and self-interests preceded him did not have the courage and determination of a Bonifacio who epitomized the last words of the Philippine National Anthem “ang mamatay ng dahil sayo.” that did the Filipinos as a whole.

  • Bunot-Supo

    Everybody dreams to go to America, doing anything bad or good or both, to become US citizen. Several of our political leaders even have dual citizenship. Are we hypocrites to say we are happy that we were given absolute freedom from the Americans? If we are still today a US protectorate, would it be an advantage like citizens of Guam and Hawaii? I think so.

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