‘Occupation Day’ in the Philippines
My childhood memories of occupation days have to do with the Japanese invasion and subsequent rule over the country from 1941 to 1945. As a young boy, I walked to school always on the lookout for checkpoints manned by fierce-looking soldiers in strange uniforms and speaking with a harsh tongue. And I learned to bow from the waist to hide my fears as I approached them.
Apparently, older generations “celebrated” a different “occupation day” under American rule. In her book “Heroes and Villains,” Carmen Guerrero Nakpil describes the day, Aug. 13, 1898, as follows:
“It was a school holiday and a national fiesta with triumphalist speeches on the Luneta. We were taught that it was the day the Americans took possession of Manila in 1898, obviously a cause for rejoicing since it meant the end of the nefarious centuries we had spent in Spanish convents and the beginning of our dalliance with English and Hollywood.”
Nakpil continues: “Nobody was ever told the exact circumstances of the event, for American policy was (and still is) steadfast denial of historical truths. But I had a dissident grandfather who spent the day in a cold fury, bursting out every so often with denunciations, rendered with clenched teeth and blazing eyes, about how Filipinos, that fateful August, had already surrounded Intramuros and reduced the Spaniards to starvation and despair but were prevented from taking over the city by the Americans, who had pretended they were allies only until they were able to land enough troops to take Manila themselves.”
Now, let me present another view of the Aug. 13, 1898 event, this time by an American best-selling author, James Bradley. His book, “The Imperial Cruise,” is about the largest US diplomatic mission to the Far East in 1905 but it also provides background information on crucial events that had taken place in some of the countries visited by the mission including the Philippines.
Bradley writes: “On June 30, 1898, President Aguinaldo made the strategic error that marked the beginning of the end of Filipino nationhood: He allowed 2,500 armed American soldiers to come ashore to prosecute the war with Spain.
“The half-starved Spanish held out behind Manila’s walls. Aguinaldo’s troops held the rest of the country. But one crucial element had become clear: The Spanish were white, and the Filipinos were not. The Americans approached the Spanish with a deal: US forces would pretend to attack Manila, the Spanish would pretend to defend and, after a little noise, the Spanish would surrender the capital. The Americans would then claim a glorious victory, the Spanish, a manly defeat without casualties… All of this was kept secret from the Filipinos.
“On August 13, the Americans and Spanish ‘fought’ the sham Battle of Manila. Filipino troops tried to join their US Army allies but the Americans shot at them to prevent any but white troops from passing through Manila’s thick walls.
“For almost four months, Aguinaldo’s forces had beaten back the Spanish until they were huddled in the capital, eating horsemeat and rats. The US Army waltzed into Manila with little wear and tear.”
Just when the dream of Filipino revolutionary fighters was about to be realized, a new colonizer came along, and in just a few days, took away, by duplicity and false promises, the goal of an independent Filipino nation.
Today, we do not celebrate Aug. 13 as a holiday with fiesta-like atmosphere. In fact, very few Filipinos have any idea of the day’s significance. But it is important to be aware of the truth in our history. We must know what really happened in the past, not just in August 1898, but through the years that followed so that we do not remain enamored by the smooth and soothing talks of friends and allies. If we neglect to learn more about ourselves, we are doomed to commit the same mistakes as in the past.
In August 1951, almost 70 years ago, we signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. It is time for a critical review of this document. Do we want this treaty with its vagueness as some form of deterrence for us? Should we consider revisions or even abrogation? These are important issues for consideration. But any re-examination must not be left to so-called experts who hold dual citizenship or carry permanent residence permits of any country. Neither should it be done by people who see our nation as inevitably becoming a province of powerful neighbors. It must be done by Filipinos in the mold of Andres Bonifacio, the commoner from Tondo who founded the Katipunan and led the Cry of Balintawak in August 1896.
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