The end of the Spanish empire | Inquirer Opinion

The end of the Spanish empire

The last Spanish governor-general of the Philippines, Don Diego de los Rios, delivered the death blow to the embattled First Philippine Republic of Emilio Aguinaldo, seated in Malolos, Bulacan.

On Dec. 24, 1898, De los Rios, formally surrendered the entire islands, Spain’s last colony, to the Visayan revolutionary forces even before Aguinaldo was proclaimed president in Malolos on Jan. 23, 1899. It was an act that humiliated Aguinaldo and that legitimized and recognized the formative Federal Republic of the Visayas led by Gen. Martin Delgado, head of the revolutionary government based in Santa Barbara, Iloilo.


De los Rios relinquished Spain’s banner and official saber—symbol of Spanish authority—for formal surrender to the victorious revolutionary forces through the last alcalde mayor of Iloilo, Jose Ma. Gay.

This glorious, historic moment of the Visayan revolution is vividly captured in the book “The Rise and Fall of the Federal Republic of the Visayas” by Dinggol Araneta Divinagracia. According to the book, De los Rios executed the capitulation papers as he passed by Iloilo on his way to Zamboanga—where he presided over the dissolution of the Spanish empire in Asia—before departing for retirement in Spain. He signed the formal surrender documents, “Acta de Capitulacion,” in Bacolod, duly acknowledged by Gen. Aniceto Ledesma Lacson, president of the Independent Negros Republic, and other officials.


On Nov. 26, 1898, in a meeting of the Negros Island Cantonal Government, Gen. Juan Araneta sponsored a resolution, which was unanimously approved, to set up a federal republic: “I propose that this island, after having attained its liberty and independence by means of a brilliant feat of arms, and thus winning an honorable place in the concert of civilized nations, be governed by prestigious men in our country who know its needs and understand its glorious ideals. For this reason, I believe that the best government to realize the beautiful aspiration of our island, which is also that of the entire Filipino people, is that of a Federal Republic.”

Following De los Rios’ departure, Delgado made a triumphal visit to Iloilo City marked by a victorious parade of revolutionaries to Plaza XII, which was immediately renamed “Plaza Libertad.” He unfurled a tristar Philippine flag and declared the independence of the Federal Republic of the Visayas on Christmas Day, 1898.

Two days later, on Dec. 27, without a formal declaration of war, US military forces led by Gen. Marcus Miller steamed into Iloilo harbor in four warships to demand the surrender of the city. After several bouts of negotiation, the leaders of the newly established sovereign Visayan Nation vehemently refused to surrender.

On Feb. 2, 1899, an American naval force appeared off the Negros coastline. Lacson, “seeing no chance of winning against the new invaders, opted not to fight and ceded control after guarantees of property rights were made. Moreover, the elite Negros leaders were more interested in peace with America for commercial consideration as fertile market for their booming sugar industry.”

On Feb. 7, the Americans began a continuous naval bombardment of Iloilo City for about a week that brought “irreparable damage and totally demolished the historic Fort San Pedro.”

On Feb. 14, American troops led by Gen. Robert Hughes landed at and forced their way into the city and on to Fort San Pedro.

According to historical documents, “Villages were razed to the ground and hundreds of civilians were brutally killed, including women and small children, referred to by the ferocious invaders as uncivilized Chinese half-breeds.”


On Feb. 22, Iloilo City fell to the American invaders. Despite the setback, Ilonggo troops fought the Americans in pitched battles around the city. The resistance continued even after the surrender of General Delgado.

On April 27, 1899, President Aguinaldo issued a decree abolishing the Federal Republic of the Visayas. The decree was “openly ignored” by the Visayan leaders “since they were not under his authority.” The embattled republic continued to function, moving its capital from Santa Barbara to Jaro, Cabatuan, and other towns in the province.

The resistance in Cebu was led by Gen. Juan Climaco and Gen. Arcadio Maxilom; in Bohol by Gen. Pedro Samson; and in Panay by Gen. Quintin Salas of Dumangas, Iloilo, acknowledged as the last leader of the Visayan Republic to surrender in October 1901. While the Ilonggos resisted against “insurmountable odds,” they were soon overwhelmed by the new and well-armed enemy. Finally, many Ilonggo fighters, among them Gen. Pablo Araneta, realizing the futility of fighting men with vastly superior arms, gave up and accepted American rule. He wrote: “We conclude that the fight in the future is completely useless. We understand the need to fight when there is a possibility of success, but when there is none, to persist in maintaining the fight becomes a useless sacrifice of lives and a crime against humanity.”

On July 4, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt officially ended the Philippine-American War (known as the “Philippine Insurrection) by issuing the Peace Proclamation. He also granted pardon/amnesty to the “insurrectionists” who, on the other side of the trenches, were patriots and freedom fighters defending the sovereignty of the independent Federal Republic of the Visayas.

In war, winners write history according to their own terms—no matter how they won. History is unforgiving to the losers.

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TAGS: Don Diego de los Rios, Emilio Aguinaldo, History, Spanish colonial rule
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