Aguinaldo’s false hopes | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Aguinaldo’s false hopes

When in Singapore I always visit the Asian Civilizations Museum to look at its Philippine artifacts, then I make my way to the lawn in front of the building to visit the memorial to Rizal’s visits to the Lion City. Weather permitting, I also pay my respects to a bronze elephant that Thai King Chulalongkorn gave Singapore in 1871 as a remembrance of his visit. Rizal mentioned this elephant in his travel diary, so gazing at it forms a link between the hero and me.

Each time I leave Singapore, though, I always resolve to return and find the place where Emilio Aguinaldo stayed in April 1898 to evade a lawsuit in Hong Kong over revolutionary funds that some greedy individuals wanted withdrawn and divided among themselves. Since I cannot find a Singapore address for Aguinaldo’s visit, the next best thing would be to locate the house of US Consul Edward Spencer Pratt, who made Aguinaldo believe that by cooperating with the US Naval Squadron under George Dewey against the Spaniards, the independence of the Philippines would follow.

It was Pratt who sought Aguinaldo through Howard Bray, an Englishman who had previously lived in the Philippines. They held two secret meetings; one was held in the US consulate, with Pratt being so impressed with Aguinaldo that he arranged the latter’s return to the Philippines with Dewey who was then in Hong Kong. Dewey agreed and sent a telegram to Pratt that read: “Tell Aguinaldo come soon as possible.” Later, in a congressional hearing, Dewey was dismissive, saying that the squadron left for the Philippines without Aguinaldo, who followed later on a US vessel.

Early in the evening of June 8, 1898, a group of Filipinos serenaded Pratt in the US consulate that was described as simply furnished. On Pratt’s desk, beside a small American flag, the grateful Filipinos placed a framed photograph of Aguinaldo. Pratt delivered a response that was reported a few days later in the Singapore press, and that said in part: “When, six weeks ago, I learned General Aguinaldo had arrived incognito in Singapore I immediately sought him out. An hour’s interview convinced me that he was the man for the occasion, and having communicated with Admiral Dewey, I accordingly arranged for him to join the latter…”


Immediately after the serenade in Singapore, Pratt wrote Aguinaldo, saying:

“All is coming to pass as I had hoped and predicted and it is now being shown that I was right in arranging for your cooperation with Admiral Dewey, and equally right in asking that you are given the support and entrusted with the confidence of the American government. I trust that I shall next have the pleasure of congratulating you upon the capture of Manila and when that occurs let me ask that you will send me some historic memento of the place and the incident, such as the flag or keys of the Ciudad or principal fortress, in souvenir of our meeting at Singapore and of the important results which have ensued.”

When Spanish Manila surrendered on Aug. 13, 1898, the Filipinos were left out. At that point, it was clear that Philippine independence from Spain was a broken promise. A declaration of independence was made from the window of Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898, but actual independence and recognition as a free and independent nation would come much later, on July 4, 1946.

What Aguinaldo did not know in 1898 was that Pratt was reprimanded for making public his actions regarding the Filipinos. He was reprimanded by the US State Department and instructed: “Avoid unauthorized negotiations with Philippine insurgents.” In a letter dated June 17, 1898, and signed by the US Secretary of State himself, Pratt was given a long dressing down part of which reads:


“The Department observes that you informed General Aguinaldo that you had no authority to speak for the United States; and, in absence of the fuller report you promise, it is assumed that you did not attempt to commit this Government to any alliance with Philippine insurgents. To obtain the unconditional personal assistance of General Aguinaldo in the expedition to Manila was proper, if in so doing he was not induced to form hopes which it might not be practicable to gratify.

“This Government has known the Philippine insurgents only as discontented and rebellious subjects of Spain, and is not acquainted with their purposes… [T]hey have neither asked nor received from this Government any recognition… The United States, in entering upon the occupation of the islands … will do so in the exercise which the state of war confers, and will expect [obedience] from the inhabitants…


“In the course of your conferences with General Aguinaldo, you acted upon the assumption that this Government would cooperate with him for the furtherance of any plan of his own, or that in accepting his cooperation, it would consider itself pledged to recognize any political claims which he may put forward. Your action was unauthorized and cannot be approved.”

Aguinaldo pinned his hopes on the unauthorized promises of Pratt who was later dismissed from the US consular service. The US consul in Cavite and Dewey kept Aguinaldo’s cooperation by playing on his false hopes. On July 4, Philippine-American Friendship Day, we should remember that the United States came to colonize the Philippines in 1898, not to recognize the independence declared on June 12.

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TAGS: Emilio Aguinaldo, George Dewey, Jose Rizal, Singapore

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