“Manila’s Finest”

December 30, 1899

signature uncertain

“Manila’s Finest”

Colonialism/Imperialism; Crime and Punishment; Philippines; U.S. Foreign Policy; Wars, Philippine-U.S. War;

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The new native policemen.

The featured cartoon was published in the middle of the Philippine fight for independence against the United States, which had received control of the islands following the Spanish-American War of 1898.  With the Filipinos in control of the capital of Manila in late 1899, the cartoon shows native policemen arresting a Filipino man, to the amusement of a white man and a black man (who appear much taller than the Filipinos).

By the late-nineteenth century, the Philippines had been under Spanish colonial rule for over 300 years.  There had been a variety of failed revolts over the centuries, but conditions in the nineteenth century fostered the rise of a native middle-class that desired independence.  An unsuccessful uprising by Filipino clergy in 1872 provoked a repressive crackdown, which in turn escalated hostility toward the Spanish rulers.  Exiled Filipinos in Europe wrote pamphlets, for distribution in their native land, which detailed the corruption of Spanish authorities there and encouraged an independence movement.  When Spain refused to reform its colonial administration, Andres Bonifacio, a warehouse clerk, founded a secret revolutionary organization (called “Katipunan”), which by the summer of 1896 had 100,000 members. 

When the Spanish authorities learned of the independence group, they placed the capital of Manila and seven provinces under martial law on August 19, 1896.  Fighting erupted in several provinces, but executions of rebel leaders in December only intensified the military effort for independence.  In March 1897, a political convention named one of the rebel commanders, Emilio Aguinaldo, as the provisional president of the revolutionary government.  A rival faction under Bonifacio set up its own government, but he was captured, tried, and executed.  In November, the revolutionary government adopted a constitution establishing an elected assembly and independent judiciary, and Aguinaldo was formally elected president.  However, the Filipino rebels were unable to defeat the Spanish, who were aided by Filipino mercenaries. 

In December, the rebels reached a settlement in which the Spanish promised to reform the government in return for peace and the exile of Aguinaldo and other rebel leaders in Hong Kong (they were paid a substantial sum of money as an inducement). However, Spanish rule continued unreformed, provoking a series of uprisings across the Philippines in early 1898.  Meanwhile, Aguinaldo used the money from Spain to buy arms for the Filipino rebellion.  The Spanish-American War began in April 1898, and on May 1, Commodore George Dewey’s U.S. naval fleet defeated the Spanish in Manila Bay.  In Hong Kong, Edward Wood, a U.S. naval commander, urged Aguinaldo to return to the Philippines to lead a full-scale rebellion.  With assurances of independence if the Filipinos joined the American war against Spain, Aguinaldo and 13 other rebel leaders returned aboard the U. S. S. McCulloch on May 19, 1898.  After forcing a Spanish surrender of Manila, Aguinaldo declared himself dictator (soon called “president”) and announced Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. 

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris granted the United States control of the former Spanish colonies of Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.  American troops occupied the Philippines, and on December 21, President William McKinley declared the American mission there was one of "benevolent assimilation."  Deteriorating relations culminating in a shooting incident on February 4, 1899, between American and Filipino soldiers, prompted Aguinaldo to declare war against the United States.  

In April 1899, the U.S. government proposed an elected Filipino assembly with an American governor-general having the power of absolute veto.  Several battles occurred over the summer and fall, and then in November, Aguinaldo replaced regular army tactics with guerrilla warfare.  In March 1900, a commission headed by William Howard Taft began the process of establishing an American government in the Philippines.  In late June, General Arthur MacArthur issued a general amnesty and a monetary inducement to Filipinos who would lay down their arms, but the fighting continued.  (General Arthur MacArthur was the father of General Douglas MacArthur, who would play a major military role in the Philippines during World War II.)

On March 23, 1901, American troops captured Aguinaldo, forcing him to swear allegiance to the United States, renounce his revolutionary activity, and publicly encourage his comrades to do the same.  On July 4, 1901, the U.S. military handed civilian authority over to the American government officials.  The war ended in 1902, although sporadic guerrilla attacks continued for several years.  In the three years of the war, 10,000 Americans were killed and 200,000 Filipinos died of war-related fighting, disease, or pestilence.

During the first five months of 1902, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Philippines held hearings regarding alleged cruelties inflicted on Filipino prisoners by American servicemen.  That summer, General Jacob H. Smith, commander of American troops on the Philippine island of Samar, was convicted by a court martial for encouraging his troops to “kill and burn” indiscriminately.  On July 1, 1902, Congress passed a bill formally establishing a Philippine government, including an elected assembly, under the auspices of the United States.  William Howard Taft was already on his way to the islands to act as governor.  It was not until more than three decades later, in 1934, that the United States recognized the Philippines as a commonwealth putting it on the path to independence, which it achieved eleven years later in 1946.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Manila’s Finest”
May 29, 2024

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