The many names for war
June 19, 2021 is Jose Rizal’s 160th birthday, another excuse to accept or argue his continuing relevance. Instead of debating about who should be our National Hero or expanding our horizon to think plural as in National Heroes and Heroines, it might be useful to reflect on Brecht’s warning: “Cursed is a nation that has need for heroes.”
Last weekend, we had the usual flag raising and commemoration of Philippine Independence. This annual event always invites someone saying that the official June 12, 1898 date is a sham or “fake news”; these counterfactuals argue that our true independence day should be pegged on July 4, 1946. On this one can paraphrase Brecht: “Cursed is the nation that has need for independence day.”
A columnist in another paper pointed out rightly that outside the eight provinces represented as eight rays of the sun in our flag, much of the Philippines, especially the Visayas and Mindanao, were not subject to Emilio Aguinaldo and his government’s authority. He added rightly too that: “Aguinaldo’s army, a hodgepodge of armed insurgents, was easily defeated by the new invaders as there was dissension within the ranks.” Easily defeated? Not so. When the US occupied the Philippines as the victor in the Spanish-American War, they had to contend with the Filipinos whose resistance was projected to be a short “splendid little war.” By the time Theodore Roosevelt declared the end of the “Philippine Insurrection” an estimated 125,000 US troops were deployed over three years to subdue the resistance. An estimated 4,200 American soldiers died during the Philippine campaign, about 2,900 were wounded, and way more than the total of these returned home due to various illnesses like malaria, dysentery, and venereal disease. Resistance from a so-called “rag-tag army” poorly led by Emilio Aguinaldo cost the enemy an estimated $300-400 million. These figures alone should lead us to reflect on and appreciate the effort that went into our stillborn independence, the unfulfilled promise in our stillborn first Republic in Malolos.
In 1998, the US Library of Congress changed the classification of books and documents of the period once known as the “Philippine Insurrection” into the “Philippine-American War.” In a similar move the mountain of archival documents on this conflict once known in the US National Archives as the “Philippine Insurgent Records” or “PIR” when repatriated to Manila from Washington, DC, are now known in our National Library as “PRR” for “Philippine Revolutionary Records.” This seemingly trivial change in library classification or nomenclature underscores the way Filipinos appreciate these primary source documents. With Emilio Aguinaldo presiding over the declaration of independence in Kawit, and the establishment of the Malolos Republic and Congress, the Philippines, in his mind, was a free and independent nation. His continuing struggle for freedom he saw as a war or a state of armed conflict between the Filipino nation and the Great North American Republic. However, since Aguinaldo and his government were not recognized by the invading US, this resistance was downplayed as an “insurrection”—merely a violent uprising against US authority and government in the islands.
Anyone doing research on the period in the Philippines and abroad will be surprised to see different terminology: Philippine Insurrection, Philippine-American War, Filipino-American War, Fil-American War, Struggle or Wars of Philippine Independence, Digmaang Pilipino-Americano, etc. Brian McAllister Linn’s landmark book “The Philippine War” (2000) used a title that is short, clear, and neutral. It doesn’t downplay the Filipino resistance as an “insurrection” but stops short of elevating the conflict, as Filipino historians do, as a “war” between two nations. From the archival record Linn recreated the US side of the conflict, and it is unfortunate that 21 years later we have yet to see a similarly documented book on the Filipino side. I realized from a lively exchange with readers last week that, on the question of June 12 or July 4, it is not enough to convince with textbook history, but to persuade using a nuanced understanding of our past from primary source archival research.
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