Two events in February 1899
The renowned Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born, is to remain always a child.”
Two events in the last year of the 19th century forever changed the course of our national history. Both occurred in February 1899, just a few months after the proclamation of the First Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898. In a way, the two events help to explain how we got to where we are today. On Feb. 4, American sentries near the Balsahan Bridge in Sta. Mesa, Manila, shot dead a Filipino soldier who failed to stop on orders to halt. Two other Filipinos fell as they fired back, signaling the beginning of the Philippine American War.
Two days later on Feb. 6, the US Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish American War. In a face-saving compromise, the United States agreed to pay Spain $20 million for the Philippines, a nation that had already defeated Spanish authorities who were now holed up within the city of Manila. A phony battle secretly agreed upon between US Adm. George Dewey and Spanish Governor General Fermin Jaudenes, delivered the city to the Americans. The Spaniards could not bear the thought of surrendering to dark-skinned natives whom they had ruled for over three centuries.
Let me dwell on the latter event.
In September 1898, Felipe Agoncillo, chief diplomatic representative of President Emilio Aguinaldo, arrived in America to seek an audience with President William McKinley in order to plead the case for Philippine independence or at least, representation at the Paris Peace Talks. Agoncillo, a lawyer from Taal, Batangas, is remembered for posting on his office door a sign to the effect that he was open to the poor at all hours, and absolutely free of charge.
Agoncillo was able to meet with McKinley and speaking through an interpreter, proceeded to state his case in “florid Castillian Spanish.” The US president listened politely, thanked Agoncillo for stopping by, and escorted him to the door, suggesting that he provide the State Department with a memorandum summarizing his views. End of meeting. On Dec. 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed. Cuba was granted independence while Puerto Rico and Guam became US possessions, with Spain receiving $20 million for the Philippines.
Although the Treaty of Paris was signed in December 1898, it still needed ratification by the US Senate and this was far from a sure thing. The country was deeply divided on what many Americans had come to know as the “Philippine Question.” Perhaps, the divide was as deep as today’s division over President Donald Trump.
Among the anti-imperialists were former presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, labor leader Samuel Gompers, and writer Mark Twain. Leading the fight for global expansion were Governor Theodore Roosevelt, senators Henry Cabot Lodge and Albert Beveridge, as well as Alfred Thayer Mahan, the scholarly naval strategist.
The Senate debate opened with Sen. George Frisbie Hoar, senior senator from Massachusetts and “a most cultivated man,” declaring that the treaty posed a danger to the American Constitution and ideals. He reminded his colleagues that the United States was founded on the ideal of the “consent of the governed” and “without the consent of Filipinos, the United States could never justly or constitutionally purchase the islands and rule its people.” A few days later, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, the junior senator from Massachusetts, delivered the administration response. He warned that rejection would mean “humiliation of the whole country in the eyes of the world” and show America “unfit as a nation to enter into the great questions of foreign policy.” Worst of all, Lodge declared, “America would have to resume its war with Spain.”
In the end, the vote was close, resulting in a razor-thin victory for the imperialist faction. The treaty was approved by just one vote more than the two-thirds margin needed for passage. For the second time, we became the colony of another foreign power.
Maj. Gen. Rene Samonte, my aide when I was head of the PAF, is now the Senate sergeant-at-arms. Rene and wife Marilou are marking their 37th wedding anniversary on Sunday. They have much to be proud of. Eldest son Maj. Ryan just graduated from AIM. Second son Dr. Renwar passed the Radiology Board Exams, and youngest boy Lt. Renmar got promoted to captain.
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