Consequence of the Philippine-American War | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Consequence of the Philippine-American War

/ 05:09 AM February 02, 2024

One hundred twenty five years ago, this weekend saw the outbreak of the Philippine-American War. Araling Panlipunan or Hekasi used to teach that on the night of Feb. 4, 1899, the first shot was fired by a certain Private Willie Grayson, at a Filipino soldier who ignored the order to “Halt!” at an enemy checkpoint on San Juan Bridge. While the date and event remains the same, the location has been changed, from San Juan to the corner of Silencio and Sociego streets in Santa Mesa, based on the study of the late Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. A pity that history does not record the name of the first Filipino casualty, but that is merely a detail now. One of the challenges in the teaching of history today is to go beyond: debated details, counterfactuals (what-ifs), and fake news. History teaches us to be critical and focus on what is relevant or essential. In the case of the “first shot,” we should not be distracted by details and look at its consequence.

When I wrote the 100-day front page “Centennial Countdown” in 1998, my sources came from notes I had gathered from the New York Public Library where I was researching the possibility that Germany would have stepped into our history if the United States Naval Squadron under George Dewey sailed away after blasting the Spanish fleet in the Battle for Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. It is not well-known that during the US blockade of Spanish Manila, warships from England, France, Germany, and Japan entered the harbor. This was standard protocol as they were meant to gather information and lend protection to their nationals or their commercial interests in the archipelago.

When the US held the archipelago, they found it hard to let go. It has been suggested that US President William McKinley was advised that if the US did not take the islands from Spain, some other power would. He had three options: dropping the Philippines, taking part of the islands, or taking the entire archipelago, including Mindanao. After acquiring the Philippines for $20 million at the close of the Spanish-American War, the US became a world power with the Philippines as its largest “insular possession.” However, they did not factor in the continuing struggle for Filipino independence that cost way more than $20 million. Military advisers thought the Filipinos were, like American Indians, easy to deal with. They were dead wrong and so the history of US military intervention elsewhere that started with the Philippines was followed by Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In addition, if we are to believe some analysts, even a new powder keg brewing precariously between China and Taiwan.

Four decades ago, when I was researching on the US in the Philippines circa 1898-1899, I had to go abroad to physically source the material. Today, so much primary source material has been made available online that I need to tweak much of what I wrote in 1998 based on material now accessible. Reading and rereading 1898 material made me realize that a historian who attempts to write a new history of the Philippines will be overwhelmed by primary sources, and in addition will be swamped by the ocean of secondary material—articles from academic journals that provide fresh perspectives and bring to light hitherto unknown or underused primary sources.


A quick timeline. In 1898, the US intervened, for humanitarian reasons, in the conflict ongoing in the Cuban War of Independence from Spain. On Feb. 15, 1898, the US Navy ship Maine blew up in Havana harbor, starting a chain of events that culminated in the US declaring war on Spain on April 25, 1898. On May 1, 1898, Dewey emerged victorious in the Battle of Manila Bay. A peace protocol, ending hostilities, was signed in Washington on Aug. 12, 1898 but hours later [Aug. 13, 1898 in the Philippines], Spanish Manila was surrendered to the Americans after a sham battle. Emilio Aguinaldo’s forces were left out of the Spanish surrender. Because of the peace protocol, there was an issue with the Philippines. Spain wanted it returned, but the US argued it will hold on till its eventual disposition is settled at a later date. In December 1898, the Spanish-American War ended formally with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, with one of the provisions being the transfer of the Philippines from Spain to the US after being paid $20 million to cover “improvements” in the property during the Spanish colonization.

In February 1899, the Treaty of Paris was brought to the US Senate for ratification that required a vote of two-thirds majority. Despite very strong anti-imperialist lobby, the treaty was ratified, 57 yeas and 27 nays, by a slim margin of one vote. This ratification has to be understood in the context of the Feb. 4, 1899 outbreak of the Philippine-American War. Browsing through the New York Times from Feb. 6, 1899 that carried the news of the fighting in Manila, there was another news item on the front page reporting that news of the conflict was a gain toward ratification of the treaty. If that shot wasn’t fired then, would the Treaty of Paris be ratified? If that didn’t fall through, the Philippines would not be a US colony and our history would be completely different from what we know.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

TAGS: American Civil War, opinion

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.