America Comes to the Philippines



Here is Episode 29 for your listening pleasure!  This episode covers the part of the Spanish-American War that was fought in the Philippines.  In doing so we will say goodbye to Spain, and meet the last colonial power to come to Southeast Asia, the United States.  In the past the narrative could cover centuries of events with one episode, but this time almost everything happened in one year, 1898.


(Transcript, added 06/14/2020.)

Episode 29: America Comes to the Philippines

Greetings, dear listeners! Guess what? “Mission creep” has set in here. Currently we are catching up on the Philippines, because we barely mentioned those islands between Episodes 14 and 28. Now with the rest of Southeast Asia, we have come to the end of the nineteenth century, and in the case of Thailand and Malaya, we have gone all the way to the end of the 1930s, so we don’t have to talk about those countries again until we are ready for World War II.

I said last time that I expected two episodes will be needed to get the Philippines up to the same time frame. But when I wrote down most of my notes, back in the 1970s and 80s, we didn’t have Google and Wikipedia; my main source was libraries. Yeah, for the younger listeners, that must sound like ancient history. Nowadays, when I check to see what new sources are available, I get an explosion of information that wasn’t available before! This means I am like the other history podcasters who promise to do a certain number of episodes on a subject, and then end up doing more than that, to cover everything new they learn. At this point, it looks like I will need another episode after this one, to finish covering the American era in the Philippines, making for three Philippine episodes in all. Just out of curiosity, has any history podcaster had the opposite problem, where a shortage of information forced him to do less episodes than promised? Even the Lesser Bonapartes didn’t do that, when they promised a four-episode series on the Elamite civilization, and eventually delivered it, though most of the time they just lamented that they knew almost nothing about the Elamites.

I also found out when recording the last episode that the longer it runs, the more days it takes to record and edit it, so unlike Dan Carlin, I would rather do two short episodes than one really long one. At least then I can stick to my self-imposed schedule of an episode at the beginning and in the middle of each month.

If you listened to the last episode, you know that the Philippines were a Spanish colony for more than three hundred years, and as Philippine society began to modernize, we saw the development of a nationalist movement. First came a call to let Filipinos serve in the clergy, because the Spaniards most Filipinos were in contact with were priests and monks, and natives only got to fill those jobs when there weren’t enough Europeans available. Then came reformers like Jose Rizal, who wanted the Philippines to stay in the Spanish empire, but said changes needed to be made. Instead of heeding the reformers, Spain executed them, so revolutionaries took their place, who wanted complete independence from Spain. The revolutionary group, the Katipunan, began its war for independence in 1896, and eventually its most successful military commander, Emilio Aguinaldo, became leader of the whole movement. In 1897 the war was going well enough for the Filipinos that Aguinaldo declared the Philippines a republic, with himself as the first president. Spain’s choices were to send thousands of reinforcements to the Spanish army, enough soldiers to crush the rebellion, or negotiate a peaceful settlement. Spain could not afford to do the former, because it was dealing with another rebellion in Cuba, so it did the latter, paying Aguinaldo enough money to make him go to Hong Kong. Naturally, both sides claimed victory after they reached an agreement; Spain declared that the rebellion was over, while Aguinaldo declared that the end of hostilities was a temporary intermission, until he was able to resume the struggle. Both were wrong, because a new nation, one more powerful than the worn-out Spanish empire, would enter the game, and this nation had just developed a taste for imperialism.

So far we have met five Western nations that have taken colonies for themselves in Southeast Asia: Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain and France. Now we are going to meet the last colonial power to come to the region, the United States of America.

<Introductory notes>

The Americans were the last to arrive in this part of the world because they got started as a nation in the eighteenth century, later than the Europeans we mentioned, and for the first century after they declared independence, they had enough challenges and opportunities at home to keep them busy. Starting as thirteen former British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America, they expanded westward to the Pacific, in a movement that Americans came to see as inevitable. They even gave it a name, calling it their “Manifest Destiny.” From this point of view, the American advance could not be stopped. Anyone who got in the way needed to move or make a deal, otherwise the Americans would run right over them.

In strategy games like Civilization, where gamers play the rulers of cities or nations, they are encouraged to do four things with an unknown territory: explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate! We call these behaviors the 4 “Xs”, and Americans did all of them as they went west. The extermination part had to do with the Native American tribes, an unfortunate trend Daniele Bolelli has covered over the past few months in his “History On Fire” podcast. When Americans weren’t practicing the 4 “Xs”, they were debating issues like slavery and states’ rights.

As long as the Americans had a frontier region to settle in, they could be optimistic about their future. But in the second half of the nineteenth century, the end of expansion on the mainland was in sight. The first telegraph line across North America was built in 1861, and that put the famous Pony Express service out of business, just a year and a half after it got started. Then in 1869 the first railroad across the continent was completed, so now rapid communication and transportation from coast to coast were both available. Native resistance ended with the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, and the last territories in western North America gained enough residents to become states in 1912. As for expansion in other directions, the US attempted to annex Canada twice, during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and both invasions were defeated, so most Americans didn’t want to try that again. And with Mexico, once the United States had acquired Texas, California and the land in-between, it had all the Mexican territory it wanted.

Did the United States have to stop expanding? Many Americans thought not. Maybe the USA could keep on advancing, south into Central America and the Caribbean, and west into the Pacific! South of the United States, Americans had restricted European influence by imposing the Monroe Doctrine, and gradually they gained influence over the economies and governments of Latin American and Caribbean nations. By the early twentieth century, Americans would have so many investments and other interests in Cuba and Panama, that they might as well have owned those countries. But that’s a topic for a podcast about Latin American history to cover.

In the Pacific, the United States made its first move when Congress passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856. This meant that the United States would claim any islands it found that were uninhabited, but covered with bird droppings, or as it is called in Spanish, guano. Guano was a hot commodity in the nineteenth century because it was a source of potassium nitrate, one of the ingredients of gunpowder, and because of the discovery that guano is an excellent fertilizer for plants. Using this act, the United States acquired the following islands in the Pacific: Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, and Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands. If you want to know how much people wanted guano in those days, look up the history of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru; in the 1880s they fought one of the biggest wars in South American history over a desert full of nitrates, most of it coming from bird poop!

The next moves came in 1867, when the United States bought Alaska from Russia, and claimed Midway Island, in the middle of the north Pacific. In the 1880s and 1890s the United States, Britain and Germany had a three-way rivalry over Samoa, which lasted until Britain dropped its claim, allowing America and Germany to divide the Samoan islands between them. On the Hawaiian Islands, a steady stream of white immigrants, whom the natives called Haoles, moved in over the course of the nineteenth century. By 1893 the Haole community was large enough to stage a coup that toppled Hawaii’s monarchy, and they immediately petitioned to join the US. But the current US president, Grover Cleveland, opposed imperialism, so Hawaii was not annexed until 1898, after the next president, William McKinley, took office. Then in 1899 the McKinley administration issued the Open Door policy, which promised that the United States would prevent other foreign powers from interfering any more in Chinese affairs, in return for a promise from China to allow equal trade access for all nations.

The United States did not want to build an overseas empire because it needed resources; their abundantly blessed homeland provided almost every resource the Americans could want or need. Nor were they motivated by a desire to pump up national pride, the way the French were after they lost the Franco-Prussian War. The doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” was still working in the Americans’ favor, but now they were also motivated by other factors: the Darwinian idea that “survival of the fittest” applied to nations as well as animals and businesses, the rapid growth of American trade and investment overseas, concern about being closed out of the world market by the other empires, and that curious mixture of idealism and imperialism which made Westerners feel it was their duty to bring “Christianity, civilization and commerce” to underprivileged people. Finally, many Americans read the books and articles written by Captain Alfred T. Mahan, a leading strategist, who emphasized that in the modern world, the world’s greatest nations needed sea power to be successful. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy under McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, was a follower of Captain Mahan’s teachings.

American involvement in Southeast Asia came as an afterthought. Before 1898, most Americans, including President McKinley, knew nothing about the Philippines, and could not find those islands on a map. The place overseas that interested Americans the most was Cuba, an island much closer to home. Like the Philippines, Cuba had an ongoing war between a local nationalist movement and the Spanish army.

Today we talk a lot about irresponsible reporters and news organizations promoting fake news. Fake news was a common problem in the 1890s, too; we use the term “yellow journalism” for news stories from those days that played with the readers’ emotions and weren’t accurate with the facts. The newspapers of the day found that atrocity stories from Cuba were a great way to boost circulation, so they kept on publishing them, until most Americans favored intervening on the side of the Cubans.

Along that line, there is a well-known story about William Randolph Hearst, one of America’s most powerful newspaper publishers. Hearst hired Frederic Remington, an artist famous for his paintings of cowboys and Indians in the American West. This time Remington’s assignment was to draw some sketches of the Cuban rebellion. When Remington arrived in Cuba, however, the Cubans and the Spaniards were talking peace, just as there were peace talks in the Philippines between Aguinaldo and the Spaniards at the same time. Remington became homesick, and sent his boss this telegram. Quote: “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.” Unquote. Hearst was so confident of what his newspapers could do that he wired back, quote: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Unquote.

In early 1898 a small American battleship, the USS Maine, arrived in Havana Harbor. Neither the Spaniards nor Cubans had invited the Maine there, but they acted like they were pleased to see the ship, while the real purpose of the Maine’s visit was to protect US citizens and their money and property, should the Cuban rebellion reach Havana. On February 15, 1898, the Maine suddenly blew up, killing 266 of her crew.

The cause of the blast wasn’t known, and many years later, in 1976, a naval inquiry declared it was probably a spontaneous explosion in the ship’s coal bunkers, which set off a nearby magazine. Back then, however, few Americans believed the explosion was an accident, and the “yellow journalism” press argued that Spain must have set off a mine under the Maine. Spanish officials immediately protested that they would never do such a thing; they knew that if war broke out between the United States and Spain, Spain did not have much chance of winning. Too bad for them; by now the American mood was, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!” On April 11 President McKinley reluctantly asked Congress to declare war, and the Spanish-American War was on.

In the last episode, we saw Manila become a target during the Seven Years War simply because the Philippines were in the Spanish Empire. Now Manila would become a target again for the same reason. When war became likely, Americans living in west coast states like California worried that the Spanish Asiatic fleet would sail from the Philippines to attack them. So even before war was declared, Theodore Roosevelt ordered Commodore George Dewey to lead a naval squadron across the Pacific and engage the Spanish fleet at Manila. This move made sure that the first battle would be fought on the other side of the world from Cuba.

Commodore Dewey’s squadron arrived in Manila Bay on April 30, 1898. He had nine ships: four cruisers, two gunboats, a revenue cutter, and two troop transports. The flagship was one of the cruisers, the USS Olympia. They spent the night looking for the defending Spanish fleet, and then early on the morning of May 1, Dewey issued a famous command to Charles Gridley, the captain of the Olympia: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” The Spanish ships were outgunned and out of date, so there was never any doubt over who would win. Seven hours later, the battle was over. Eight of the thirteen Spanish ships were sunk, and Spanish casualties were 77 dead and 271 wounded. The American losses were trivial: one ship damaged, nine sailors wounded, and one sailor died from the heat.

Immediately after the American victory, it wasn’t clear what would happen next. There were Spanish soldiers in several parts of the Philippines, and Commodore Dewey brought back Aguinaldo from Hong Kong, so he could raise a native army against the Spaniards. This was so successful that on June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo issued a formal declaration of independence from Spain. In the Philippines today, June 12 is celebrated as Independence Day for that reason. Around this time, Aguinaldo asked an American general, Thomas H. Anderson, if the Americans planned on keeping the Philippines, and Anderson reassured him by saying, quote: “In one hundred and twenty-two years we have established no colonies. I leave you to draw your own inference.” Unquote.

Meanwhile, warships from Britain, France, Germany and Japan entered Manila Bay, looking for opportunities now that the Spanish fleet was gone. The eight German ships were the most annoying; they cut in front of American ships, refused to salute the US flag (a custom of naval courtesy), took soundings of the harbor, and landed supplies for the Spaniards. They did all this because they expected the Spaniards or the Filipinos would defeat the Americans, and then the Germans could send in their troops and take the islands for themselves. Thus, there was a brief war scare between the American and German fleets, before the Germans backed down.

Also in June, an American cruiser and three troop transports on their way to the Philippines stopped at Guam. This island did not have a telegraph or telephone line to the outside world, and the last message received from Spain was dated April 14, so none of the locals knew about the war. This caused a silly incident where the Americans fired some warning shots at the island’s fort, and instead of shooting back, two Spanish officers in a boat came to the cruiser. The officers welcomed the newcomers, apologized for not returning the salute, and asked if they could borrow some gunpowder so they could return the salute now! Instead, the captain of the cruiser, Henry Glass, informed them that the United States and Spain were at war, and that all Spanish personnel on Guam were prisoners. In that way Guam was captured without resistance. Previously there had been rumors of Spanish warships stationed at Guam, but the only ship the Americans saw besides their own was a Japanese freighter, which had come to Guam to buy copra, dried coconut. The Americans stayed two days to arrange a formal surrender of the island’s 54-man Spanish garrison, and install the island’s only American resident as the new governor, before moving on to join Dewey’s fleet in Manila Bay.

By the end of July, 12,000 American troops had arrived in the Philippines, and the Philippine Revolutionary Army’s strength had increased to more than 30,000 troops. A Spanish garrison still held Manila, but since it could not receive reinforcements from Spain, it was only a matter of time before the Americans or the Filipinos forced them to surrender. The Spanish governor, Basilio Augustín, understandably feared a bloodbath if the Filipinos captured the city, so surrendering to the Americans looked like the least painful option, but when Spain heard he was thinking about this, it replaced him with a new governor, Fermín Jáudenes. The problem was Spain’s old code of honor, which only allowed surrender after being defeated in a fair fight. To preserve Spanish dignity, and avoid a court-martial, the Spanish and American commanders secretly planned to fight a mock artillery battle over Manila, after which the Spaniards would surrender. The tricky parts were that they needed to make it look like a regular battle, though the Americans and Spaniards weren’t really trying to kill each other, and the Americans had to keep their Filipino allies from rushing into the city.

The mock battle was held on August 13, 1898. The plan was for the American ships to begin by shelling Fort San Antonio Abad, an old, abandoned fortress on the outskirts of Manila, and then bombard the walls surrounding Intramuros, the center of Manila. These targets were chosen because if they were hit, there would be an impressive amount of noise and smoke, but no one would get hurt. Next, American soldiers would march into the city, the American flagship would fly the semaphore flags calling for an enemy’s surrender, and the Spaniards would raise a white flag over Manila, signaling an end to the whole affair. Most of the battle went according to that plan, but of course there were some exceptions. The gunners on one ship, not knowing that this battle was supposed to be fought like a war game, thought they were given the wrong ranges for the targets and they changed them, allowing them to score some direct hits. To keep up the charade, Dewey had to call a cease-fire, and order this ship to leave the battle. Meanwhile in another part of Manila, some Filipino revolutionaries, thinking this battle was the real thing, enthusiastically joined an American unit on the march. The sight of the Filipinos coming to get them caused the Spaniards to panic and open fire; in that skirmish six Americans and forty-nine Spaniards were killed. These were the only casualties in the battle for Manila. Most of the Filipino army stayed out of the battle because General Anderson told Aguinaldo to wait until all the Spaniards had surrendered before entering the city, and Aguinaldo trusted the Americans enough to comply with this request.

Actually the Manila battle wasn’t needed at all. Spain had formally conceded defeat to the United States on August 12, the day before the battle. Since Dewey had cut the cable to Manila back in May, news that the war was over didn’t reach the Philippines until August 16. Thus, both the first and last battles of the Spanish-American War were fought in the Philippines. The treaty ending the war was signed in December, and here Spain handed over Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States for nothing. However, the Philippines were a colony much bigger than the others, and the diplomats haggled over the Philippines for a long time, until the Americans persuaded Spain to give up the whole archipelago for $20 million. The other Micronesian islands under Spanish rule were later sold to Germany, because the Americans did not want them. The story of the Spanish empire, which had started four hundred years earlier with Christopher Columbus, was now over.

When news of Manila’s capture made it to the US mainland, one newspaper, The New York Journal, took credit for the part yellow journalism had played in the war by posting a headline that blared, quote: “HOW DO YOU LIKE THE JOURNAL’S WAR?” Unquote. The general American attitude was summarized in a letter that John Hay, the US ambassador to Britain, wrote to Roosevelt. Quote: “It has been a splendid little war.” End quote.

The US Congress voted to grant independence to Cuba, and Guam and Puerto Rico have chosen to stay with the United States until this day, mainly because of all the benefits they have received from the Federal Government. But again, the Philippines would require special treatment. We said that before the war, Americans had never given the Philippines much thought; they certainly hadn’t planned to take those islands from Spain. Now they did not know what to do with the archipelago. Some Americans (mainly Democrats) felt that independence should be granted immediately, and that the Philippine nationalist movement was every bit as legitimate as the one that had started the United States in 1776. Southern Democrats did not want to annex the Philippines, because that would allow brown people to move onto the US mainland.

Another American who disapproved of the United States taking the Philippines was Andrew Carnegie, the chief of the American steel industry and one of the richest men in the country. He was appalled to hear that in the treaty ending the Spanish-American War, the United States bought the Philippines from Spain. In response, Carnegie offered $20 million of his own money to the Filipino nationalists so they could buy their independence from the US government. Obviously they didn’t take him up on his offer, and I’ll leave it to alternate history fans to speculate on how different the history of the Philippines would have been if they accepted it.

Despite these voices, the American public favored keeping the Philippines. And a majority in Congress took the imperialist view, feeling that taking the Philippines was a step in building a great American empire. They argued that the Philippines could not stand on its own; the presence of foreign ships in Manila Bay told them that if the United States did not take the Philippines, another nation would. One of them, Senator Albert J. Beveridge from Indiana, voiced this with a blatant imperialist speech. Quote:

“Mr. President . . . God has not prepared the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns . . . He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples . . . He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America . . . The Philippines are ours forever. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world.”

End quote.

For most of 1898 President McKinley did not know what to do about the “Philippine problem,” because he was only interested in domestic issues and things in the United States. He showed this in 1901, when he visited Niagara Falls and went on the Honeymoon Bridge, which crossed the Niagara River between the United States and Canada. Up to that point, no president had left the United States while in office, and McKinley didn’t want to be the first, so he walked on the bridge to the halfway point, and then turned back. When it came to foreign policy, he was so indecisive that one joke said: “Why is President McKinley’s mind like a bed? Because it has to be made up for him before he can use it.”

<Laugh track>

By the end of the year, though, McKinley came around to support the imperialists. He may have gone with this decision because it was the majority opinion, but a year later he told a visiting Methodist missionary society that God told him to do it. As he explained, night after night he walked the floor of the White House, and went down on his knees and quote, “prayed Almighty God for light and guidance.” Unquote. Then one night the answer came to him. Quote: “That there was nothing left for us to do but take them all [meaning the Philippine Islands], and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.” Unquote. McKinley finished by saying that after this inspiration, he went to bed and slept soundly.

By “Christianize the Filipinos,” the president meant convert them to Protestantism. Many Americans were prejudiced against Catholics, at least until 1960, when they elected a Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. And Protestant missionaries did go to the Philippines in the twentieth century. Because of their work, a fraction of today’s Filipino population, maybe 8 percent, is neither Catholic nor Moslem; that includes my wife’s family.

My, oh my. Whereas in the past we could cover centuries of events with an episode, this one mainly talked about events in one year, 1898. Spain is out of the game, we won’t have to talk about Spain anymore, but now the stage has been set for a new conflict. The Americans have decided to keep the Philippine Islands, while Aguinaldo and the other Philippine nationalists, who had been expecting to receive independence, now feel betrayed. The 1898 battle for Manila marked the end of cooperation between Filipino and American soldiers, and that made it impossible for the two sides to reach a peaceful agreement afterwards. Therefore we will end the episode here and continue the narrative by talking about the war between Americans and Filipinos in the next episode. This war has been forgotten by most of today’s Americans; those who know about it call it the Philippine Insurrection or the Philippine-American War, depending on whether or not they are politically correct. And then if we have time after covering the war, we will look at how the United States ran the Philippines, up to the beginning of World War II.

If you enjoyed this episode and want to give a donation, go to my online tipping jar, by clicking on the Paypal button, at the bottom of this episode’s page. Donations start at one US dollar. If you listen on iTunes or another website that allows you rate podcasts, give this one a review. You never know when somebody looking for a new podcast will stumble on this one, and when they do, they will see your words about it, and how many stars you gave. “Like” the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page if you are on Facebook. And in the real world, tell anybody who you think might be interested. I do plenty of that myself, but according to podcast statistics, there are still more listeners in other states, so for me, the word of mouth advertising will continue. As always, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


The Free State of Van Zandt


On the podcast, in the latest episode I mentioned America’s first war in Korea, the Shinmiyangyo Incident of 1871.  Now here is another strange war in the 1800s that most people have forgotten, to the point that I just heard about it.  On The Xenophile Historian, I have added it to Chapter 4 of the North American history series.

The Free State of Van Zandt

One part of the South that wanted nothing to do with slavery and Reconstruction was Van Zandt County, in northeastern Texas.  Almost no one in this county owned slaves, and they didn’t like the idea of fighting for someone else’s right to own slaves.  When Texas seceded in 1861, some folks in Van Zandt County proposed seceding from Texas, so that like West Virginia, they could remain with the Union.  However, the threat of military intervention by the state of Texas was enough to keep the citizens of Van Zandt from acting, for the duration of the Civil War.

After the war, the citizens of Van Zandt decided that another thing they didn’t like was letting Union troops and carpetbaggers run around in the county.  In 1867 Texas was readmitted into the Union, and a convention was held in Van Zandt to propose seceding from Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States of America!  The county commissioners approved of this move, and drafted a declaration of independence, which looked a lot like the more famous 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Naturally General Sheridan saw this move as an act of rebellion, and he sent a cavalry unit to deal with it.  However, the heavily forrested terrain of Van Zandt County canceled the advantage cavalry normally has, and the rebels knew their home ground well enough to surprise their opponents.  The first (and only) battle of the Free State War was won by the rebels, who ambushed and drove off the cavalry.  Then, to celebrate the ultimate David-vs.-Goliath victory, the rebels gathered in Canton, the main town of Van Zandt County.  At the party they drank too much, and while they were totally blotto, Sheridan’s troops returned, arrested the whole bunch, and built a stockade near Canton to hold them.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, but it has an epilogue.  One of the prisoners, a former Confederate soldier named William Allen, had a knife in his boot that was not discovered by his captors, and over the course of several days he used the knife like a file, wearing down the anklets restraining him until he could break them off.  Around the same time the rainy season started, and the guards posted on the site were reduced to one, who did his best to keep an eye on the prisoners by simply walking around the compound.  This allowed Allen to free the other prisoners while the guard wasn’t looking, and when they broke out of the stockade, most of them fled in two different directions, one group going north to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and the other going west to the neighborhood of Waco, TX.

Arrest warrants were put out for all the prisoners that escaped, but Federal troops did not look very hard for them, and none were caught.  Even Allen was able to return after most people forgot about the affair, and he spent the rest of his life as a doctor in Canton.  As for the Feds, they departed as soon as they brought Van Zandt County back into Texas, considering their work complete.  Nobody bothered to void the county’s declaration of independence, so technically the county is still independent.  Today the county calls itself "The Free State of Van Zandt," though today it isn’t clear if it got that name from the 1867 secession, the 1861 secession attempt, the county’s lack of slaves, or some incident that happened even earlier.

Philippine Nationalism



The latest episode went up two days ago, and because I was busy in the real world, I didn’t get around to announcing it here until now.  I also took an extra day to get the recording and editing finished.  The end result is the longest episode this podcast has produced so far, So I think you will find it was worth the wait.  For the first time in seven months, we will look at the Philippines.  Here you will hear how Spain lost its tight grip on the islands, and the development of Southeast Asia’s first modern nationalist movement.  The narrative will cover events in the 1700s and most of the 1800s, and end right before the United States got involved in the Philippines, the topic of the next episode.  And for the first time, you will hear my wife make a contribution!


(Transcript, added 06/06/2020.)

Episode 28: Philippine Nationalism

Greetings, dear listeners! Before I begin today’s narrative, two matters of geography have come to my attention, and I think I ought to straighten them out first.

First, now that word is getting out in the real world that I am a Southeast Asian expert, people are asking me what I think of North Korea, since we just had another war scare with the modern-day Hermit Kingdom. Well, I should make it clear that Korea is not part of Southeast Asia. In the Introduction to this podcast series, I listed the eleven countries that will be covered, in alphabetical order: Brunei, Burma (also called Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Did you hear Korea there? No, because Korea belongs to what I call Northeast Asia. The other parts of Northeast Asia are Japan, northeast China, and east Siberia. In the early 1950s, Americans thought the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam were two fronts in the same war; I didn’t know that kind of thinking was still around.

That being said, I do have opinions about Korea. One of them is a history-related pet peeve. The war fought on the peninsula from 1950 to 1953 is often called “America’s Forgotten War.” No it isn’t. Here in the USA we had the TV show “M.A.S.H.” producing new episodes for nearly all of the 1970s; that show was set in the Korean War, and it was on the air for three times as long as the Korean War lasted. The real forgotten war is the one Americans fought in Korea eighty years earlier, in 1871. I bet none of my American listeners have heard of that one. The Koreans I have talked to remember the first war, though. They call it Shinmiyangyo. For more than a hundred years the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland, displayed a big yellow and black flag that the Americans captured in the war; only in 2007 was it returned to Seoul. For more information about the First Korean War, look it up online, starting with the website about it,

The other issue is that on a few websites, I have heard that some people do not consider the Philippines part of Southeast Asia, because it is so far to the east. Well, the nearest neighbors of the Philippines are Malaysia and Indonesia, and no one says they aren’t Southeast Asian nations. What’s more, part of Indonesia, the Moluccas and western New Guinea, are even farther east. Personally I blame this misconception on the Disney attraction “It’s A Small World.” I went on that ride more than once when I lived in Florida, and the Walt Disney World version of “It’s A Small World” has just one doll representing the Philippines, a girl in a traditional dress, with the butterfly sleeves. However, she is not in the Asia room, where they have some dolls dressed like Thai or Cambodian dancers; she is in the Pacific room, next to dolls representing Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii! The Hong Kong Disneyland does better – they have two girl dolls standing in a hut, and singing the theme song in Tagalog.

<Insert song>

Yeah, like that. But I believe they are still in the Pacific room. Filipinos joke that there used to be a boy doll for the Philippines as well, but you don’t see him anymore because he got a job in Hawaii!

As you have probably guessed by now, today’s episode is about the Philippines. We’ve got some catching up to do; the last time we visited that archipelago was in Episode 14. In real time that was seven months ago! How long would that be in Internet time, four years? Therefore it’s time to talk about what has happened there. And since we have made it all the way to the end of the 1930s with Malaya and Thailand, I plan to devote the next episode to events in the Philippines during the early twentieth century, before moving on to another Southeast Asian country.

All right. If you haven’t listened to Episode 14 yet, I recommend you do so, in order to learn how the Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire. With Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, Spain discovered the Philippines, and starting in 1565, Spain conquered the Visayas, the small islands in the middle of the archipelago, and Luzon, the big northern island. Because Spain ruled this area for more than three hundred years, most of today’s Filipinos have Spanish-sounding names; the long Spanish rule is also the reason why most of them are Catholic. Spain also claimed that it conquered Mindanao, the big southern island, but their grip on this area was never as strong as it was on the other islands, because the local Moslem community was implacable; they would never accept any government but their own. Indeed, the Moros, or Philippine Moslems, are causing the same trouble today, because they won’t accept the rule of other Filipinos, either.


I ended the Episode 14 narrative in the seventeenth century, because as I put it, the Spanish Empire was a hollow empire. A lot happened at the empire’s beginning, and a lot happened at its end, but we never hear of much happening in the middle. Part of this was because of the way Spain jealously guarded its colonies; for more than two centuries the colonies were kept isolated from the outside world. Ships leaving the colonies were only supposed to go to Spain or other Spanish colonies, and only Spanish ships could go to the colonies. In the New World, this led to smuggling and piracy, because Spanish ships could not supply everything the colonies needed. In the Philippines, the Spanish policy of mercantilism was more successful, because the Philippines were so much farther from Europe. The only ships allowed to go to the Philippines were the Manila Galleons, traveling to and from Mexico, and the Chinese ships bringing trade goods from the Asian mainland.

Back in Episode 14, I told you that the Manila Galleon traveled from Acapulco to Manila with its cargo holds full of Mexican silver, and went back to Acapulco with a load of merchandise made in China. These weren’t the cheap manufactured goods marked “Made in China,” that you will find in a modern-day Wal-Mart; these were fine silks, porcelain, and other luxury items. After Europe discovered tea in the 1600s, the galleon probably carried some tea chests as well; tea was an expensive commodity in Europe until the British started growing it on plantations in India. Therefore the Manila Galleon was a fine prize for pirates to snatch, and a target worth capturing if you were the captain of an enemy naval vessel in wartime. And we saw that Thomas Cavendish was the first privateer to capture the galleon, back in 1587, though his ships were too small to carry away the whole cargo.

Pirates weren’t the only hazard the galleons faced. They could also get stuck in the middle of the ocean where the winds didn’t blow, especially in the zone around the equator called the doldrums, and some were lost to storms. Moreover, since the journey each way took three months at a minimum, the crew and passengers suffered from a lack of food and fresh water, and diseases like scurvy, beriberi and dysentery. The seventeenth-century Italian traveler Gamelli Careri wrote that the trip was, quote: “enough to destroy a man, or make him unfit for anything as long as he lives.” End quote. Still, greed could be strong enough to overcome these hardships, and many rode on the galleon four, six, or even ten times. But while a few folks prospered greatly from this trade, Spain’s concentration of attention on it stunted the rest of the Philippine economy. And because most of the ships going to the Philippines only went to Manila, the rest of the archipelago went neglected. If you left Manila and traveled into the countryside of Luzon, or to the other Philippine islands, you would be in a place so remote, so isolated from the rest of the world, that it was a little like going to another planet.

Spain modeled Manila after Mexico City, with a grid of boulevards and plazas running from the grand cathedral and several other impressive stone buildings in the center of the city, a walled compound called Intramuros. The city grew rapidly; in 1780 the population was estimated at nearly 90,000, twice what it had been a century earlier, and it would pass a quarter million before Spanish rule ended. Of the residents, only three or four thousand were Spaniards. These folks were corrupted by their wealth, and made and lost fortunes on the galleon trade every year. Francisco Leandro de Viana, a member of the Audiencia, the colonial high court, said this about their obsession with money. Quote: “They consider unworthy any pursuit other than commerce, preferring to live in utter idleness rather than work in the provinces. They loiter about, gambling and indulging in other vices . . . and so Manila is a most abominable place, with its gangs, its malicious rumors and slanders, its sloth and licentiousness. Even the richest and busiest citizen spends ten months of the year with nothing to do.” End quote.

Under the Spaniards were a part-Chinese middle class; the Spanish term Mestizo was applied to them, and also to those who had part-Filipino, part-European ancestry. But the vast majority of Manila’s population were natives doing menial jobs; they were packed into bamboo shacks on the city’s periphery, where they suffered from flooded streams and swamps, fires, and epidemics of cholera and smallpox.

The Spanish mercantile system began to crack in the eighteenth century. However you feel about the use of force to resolve conflicts, you have to admit that some wars in history are dumber than others, and one that keeps appearing on lists of stupid wars is the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In 1731, off the coast of Florida, the Spaniards intercepted a British merchant ship, the Rebecca, carrying a cargo of sugar from Jamaica to England. Jamaica was a British colony by this time, but the Spanish captain, Juan de León Fandiño, was an uncommonly touchy fellow, and he accused the Rebecca’s captain, Robert Jenkins, of smuggling to Spanish colonies. Of course Jenkins denied this, so Fandiño cut off his ear, and threatened to do the same thing to King George II. Here are his words, quote: “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same, if he dares to do the same.” End quote.

Jenkins returned to England, with his ear pickled in a jar of rum. In his book “Small Parts in History,” Sam Llewellyn described the captain’s return as follows. Quote: “On arrival he took it [meaning the ear] to the King, who promised to do something about it, presumably in order to get rid of Jenkins who must have been no oil painting.” End quote. I guess that means even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t have improved the looks of Captain Jenkins; all Jenkins could do was wear a wig to cover the scar where his ear used to be. Most history texts covering the incident assert that Jenkins was kept waiting until 1738, and then when he appeared with his ear before Parliament, his testimony outraged those who heard it, so that they declared war on Spain soon afterwards. Unfortunately, we don’t have a detailed record of that meeting, so we don’t know what was said, or if Jenkins really grossed them out by showing his ear. It does seem strange to me that it would take seven or eight years for the amputation of an ear to become the excuse for war; tempers would have cooled by then, and except for Captain Jenkins, most people probably wouldn’t have remembered the incident.

Overall the war was inconclusive. Britain captured the Spanish fortress of Porto Bello in Panama, but suffered defeat when it tried to take Cartagena in Colombia and St. Augustine in Florida. Spain in turn retaliated by invading Georgia from Florida, but that campaign failed, too. Meanwhile in Europe, a big war broke out, the War of the Austrian Succession, between Austria and Prussia. Britain entered that war on Austria’s side, while Spain chose to ally itself with Prussia, so from 1742 onward the War of Jenkins’ Ear was just an overseas sideshow for the War of the Austrian Succession. That war went on until 1748, before it also ended in a draw.

All right, what did the Philippines have to do with this? Well, during the war any Spanish ship or colony became fair game for the British Navy, and that included the Manila Galleon. In 1742 Britain sent six ships under Commodore George Anson around Cape Horn, to raid the Pacific coast of Spanish-ruled South America. The loot gained here was small, because the squadron had lost three of its ships by this time, and they missed the Manila Galleon. However, once they were done, they crossed the Pacific, got some badly needed repairs in Canton, and waited around for the Manila Galleon of 1743. They intercepted and captured this galleon, the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, off the Philippine island of Samar; since this was the ship headed west from Mexico, it carried 1,313,843 silver pieces of eight. I couldn’t find in any of my sources how much this was worth, but by running the current price of silver through a calculator, I came up with $25 and a quarter million in US dollars. Wikipedia claims that the British ships captured by Spain in the Atlantic were worth more than the galleon, but to me that sounds like “sour grapes” reasoning, an attempt to curb enthusiasm over Anson’s achievement. After the Philippines, Anson returned to England by continuing to sail west, circumnavigating the globe in the process. Although Anson’s expedition lost more than nine tenths of its men to disease, and only one of the ships made it back, London considered the mission a success, because of the captured Manila Galleon and its treasure. The share of the treasure that Anson got to keep made him rich for the rest of his life.

Spain and Britain had a rematch twenty years later, with the Seven Years War, and this time Britain did much better. If you’re an American, you have heard this war called the French and Indian War. In 1759, the same year that Britain took Canada from France, Spain was persuaded to enter the war on the French side, and again the British Navy added Spanish colonies to its list of targets worth attacking. In 1762 the British captured the galleons going both to and from Manila, but worse was to come. Next, a fleet of fifteen ships and 2,000 men sailed from Bengal, Britain’s colony in India, and they reached Manila on September 23, 1762. The most recent governor of Manila had died in 1759, and his replacement had not arrived yet, so the local archbishop, Manuel Antonio Roja, was in charge. Because communications between Manila and the rest of the Spanish Empire were so bad, Roja did not even know that Spain was at war. To defend the city, there was a garrison of almost 600 Spanish soldiers, and up to 10,000 natives armed with spears and bows were available. With no instructions from Spain on what to do, the Spaniards fought half-heartedly for twelve days, and then Roja surrendered Manila to the British on October 6. This was a violation of Spain’s chivalric code of conduct, but Madrid forgave him. As one senior Spanish official put it, Roja was, quote: “an imbecile rather than a traitor . . . who unfortunately had been assigned tasks for which he lacked both the intelligence and the valor.” End quote.

The British made no effort to conquer the rest of the Philippines, but simply stayed in Manila until the war ended, and gave it back to Spain in 1764. Even so, their easy success showed the Filipinos how weak Spanish rule over them really was. That led to a few peasant revolts in rural Luzon, and uprisings from the always belligerent Moros on Mindanao and in the Sulu islands. Most of all, for the first time, Filipinos got to see what other Europeans were like. During the brief period when the British ruled Manila, they allowed free trade between it and the outside world, and when the Spaniards saw the boom that caused for the local economy, a few of them realized that reforms were badly needed; Spain’s hold over the islands was doomed if the old system remained.

One of the first who called for reform was Pedro Murillo Velarde, a Jesuit who said around 1700 that the Spaniards were “like visitors to an inn,” who come and go without leaving evidence of their presence. He recommended the establishment of government-controlled companies to develop agriculture, industry and commerce. None of the reforms proposed got off the ground until a reform-minded king, Charles III, was crowned in 1759, and a reform-minded governor, José de Basco y Vargas, arrived in 1778. Of these, the biggest successes were the growing of tobacco and sugar cane, which greatly increased the colony’s income because these were cash crops, but the conversion of rice fields to grow the new crops caused a shortage of rice in some areas, forcing the importation of food for the first time in Philippine history. Foreign merchant ships were also allowed to come to Manila, provided that the cargoes they brought came only from China and India.

The first American ship to visit Manila was a freighter named the Astrea, in October 1796. The captain was a brilliant young man from Salem, Massachusetts, twenty-three-year-old Nathaniel Bowditch, who spoke six languages, was an expert in mathematics and astronomy, and over his lifetime he published two dozen books. He loaded his ship with nearly four hundred tons of sugar to take back to New England; sugar and molasses were products that Americans could not get from the Caribbean at that time, because Britain would not allow ships from its rebellious former colonies to go there until after the War of 1812. His impression of the laidback life in Manila was described in detail in Stanley Karnow’s book on the Philippines, “In Our Image,” and that paragraph is good enough that I will read it here. Quote:

<Read pages 59 & 60.>

End Quote.

The Manila Galleon trade ended when Spain’s Latin American colonies began their wars for independence in the early nineteenth century; now Spain no longer had a place on the eastern shore of the Pacific for the galleons to sail to. The last eastbound galleon sailed from Manila to Acapulco in 1811, and the last galleon going west sailed in 1815. To replace the Manila Galleon trade, Spain now allowed free commerce between Manila and the nations of Europe.

In the south, a silly incident happened on Basilan, a small island next to the western tip of Mindanao. The Dutch had tried to take Basilan in 1747, but together the natives and the Spaniards had driven them off. In 1844 the French foreign minister sent a squadron to Vietnam, to protect Vietnamese Catholics from persecution. We saw this squadron in Episode 25; it was the one that would rescue a French missionary, Dominique Lefèbvre, the first time he was arrested. The squadron commander, Jean-Baptiste Cécille, also sent a corvette, the Sabine, to the Sulu Sea, to look for an island that would make a suitable naval base, so that French vessels in Southeast Asian waters would no longer have to depend on the hospitality of Portuguese, British, or Dutch outposts. If everything worked out, the island could also become a commercial center, like Hong Kong, the new British port on the Chinese coast. The expedition was kept secret to prevent a hostile British reaction. Officially Basilan belonged to the sultan of Sulu, and all islands in the Sulu Sea were part of the Philippines, but Spain was so weak that nobody worried about Spanish objections. When the ships arrived at Basilan, in October 1844, five French sailors went ashore and were kidnaped; two were killed, while the other three were ransomed. A gunboat was borrowed from the Spaniards at Zamboanga City, and used to bombard the fort of the offending datu or chief, but the Europeans had to withdraw when the tide went out. The French returned in early 1845, with flat-bottomed boats they had gotten from Manila, and this time the chiefs of Basilan agreed to submit to French rule if they were paid 100,000 piastres, or 500,000 French francs, in six months. The adventure became public, however, when the fleet returned home. Spain protested, declaring that Basilan had just submitted to Spanish rule in February 1844. Meanwhile Britain was amused, and the French were so embarrassed that they never sent the promised cash. The French prime minister repudiated the whole undertaking, declaring that Basilan could not be used as a base and was too far east to help French shipping in any case.

By the way, I checked when I did the research for this episode. And no, the failure at Basilan is not what persuaded the French to conquer Vietnam instead.

By this time, Spain had decided that it needed to restate its claims in the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean had been completely explored, and other Europeans were staking claims, starting with Britain colonizing Australia. Besides the Philippines, the Spanish claim included Easter Island on the other side of the Pacific, the tiny islands in the South China Sea, and most of Micronesia (the Mariana, Palau, Caroline and Marshall Islands). Guam was the only one of these islands Spain had done anything with. Except for Easter Island, all these islands were organized with the Philippines into a single territory, called the Spanish East Indies. However, in Micronesia this did not mean Spain was doing anything different; the Micronesians were affected more by the whalers, missionaries and merchants who visited them in the following years. Then in 1874, Spain announced its claim to Micronesia one more time, based on three arguments:

1. Spain was the first European nation to send ships there.
2. The pope had awarded most of the Pacific to Spain in 1494,
and 3. Spain had tried to convert this whole area to Catholicism, though it only succeeded in the Philippines.

The Spanish claim was in the news again in 2015 and 2016, when the Philippines presented old maps made in the Spanish era, that show the South China Sea as Spanish territory. You have probably heard of the ongoing South China Sea dispute, where China is claiming nearly all of the sea and its islands, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are claiming parts of it. The issues are that the South China Sea is a good place for fishing, there may be oil underneath it, and trillions of dollars worth of commerce pass through the sea every year. China has raised the stakes by enlarging one of the islands and building a military base on it. Of the maps in question, the oldest and most important one was published in 1734 by Pedro Murillo Velarde, the Jesuit mentioned previously; it is a map of the Philippines and according to it, one of the islands in the South China Sea, Scarborough Shoal, is part of the Philippines. The reasoning behind the Philippine claim is that whoever owns the Philippines today should own the South China Sea islands, too. The United Nations court at the Hague subsequently ruled in favor of the Philippines, but China has not backed down yet, though Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is willing to negotiate with the Chinese over this matter.

Those who prospered the most from the opening of Manila to free trade were the Chinese Mestizo merchants. Over the next few decades the introduction of the steamship and the digging of the Suez Canal brought down the cost of shipping. In Episode 21 we talked about how this affected Southeast Asia, and the Philippines was affected the most, probably because Spain had succeeded in replacing part of the native culture with its own.

Thus, the Filipinos who were getting rich at this time admired the culture of the mother country. And with the cost of transportation coming down, many Mestizos could now afford to send their children to colleges in Europe. In college these students found that there is a tremendous difference between the way Europeans handle politics at home and in the colonies. In Europe an Asian student was accepted as a social equal, since there were not enough Asians living in Europe to create trouble, but in the Far East the Europeans always made sure that their Asian subjects knew they were second-class citizens. The well-to-do Filipinos resented that they were almost as wealthy as the Spaniards, but enjoyed no political rights at all. They were joined by Criollos, Spaniards who were born in the Philippines but had full-blooded European ancestry; as in Latin America, Spain reserved the best jobs for Europeans born in Spain, so the Criollos were left out. It was in the Philippines, the country that had been the most Westernized by Europeans, that Southeast Asia’s first modern nationalist movement arose.

The earliest Filipino grievance was against the Spanish clergy, since these were only Spaniards most Filipinos ever saw outside Manila. The priests ruled their congregations like little kings, and being a long way from home, the priests didn’t let their vow of celibacy keep them from taking local girls as mistresses, thereby increasing the Mestizo population. Today a lot of Filipinos who have part European ancestry can trace it to one of these priests. The clergy jealously resisted any attempt to take away their power; they especially opposed the ordination of Filipinos. Their argument was that Filipinos didn’t want to become priests because they felt a calling to the ministry, but because it would advance their position in society; a native who became a priest stopped being a servant of the Spaniards and became a master over other Filipinos.

The Napoleonic Wars and the Latin American revolutions interrupted transportation between the Philippines and Spain, so when vacancies appeared in the local churches, Manila was forced to appoint natives to fill them. However, the king of Spain during this time, Ferdinand VII, was an ultraconservative. How conservative was he? He was so conservative that he even brought back the Spanish Inquisition for a few years. I bet you weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!

<Monty Python clip>

Anyway, once peace returned, Ferdinand began to remove the native priests from their parishes. Their appointment was just an emergency measure, after all. Tensions rose over this, and some Spanish clergymen who had been born and raised in the Philippines joined those calling for reform; they now saw themselves as Filipinos first and Spaniards second, just as many Englishmen in the American colonies regarded themselves as Americans after 1776.

The first leader, Pedro Pelaez, was the Mestizo son of a Spanish official. A brilliant theologian, he had risen to the rank of vicar capitular, or governor over the churches of Manila, the highest rank attained by a Mestizo priest. He launched a campaign to nationalize all churches in the Philippines, but shortly afterwards, on June 3, 1863, an earthquake struck Manila and buried him in the ruins of the main cathedral. His enemies called the earthquake an act of God, inflicted to stop the priest. Meanwhile in the south, the Spaniards had gained enough control over Mindanao to declare the whole island pacified in 1860, so Spain’s position must have looked secure. But the truth of the matter was that they had put a lid on a pot of discontent, and to continue the metaphor, you could say that the development of nationalism was causing the temperature of the pot to rise, meaning that Spain could only keep the lid on for so long.

In 1869 Madrid appointed a new governor, General Carlos Maria de la Torre y Navacerrada. He was sympathetic to the reformers, so under him there was hope that the disputes between Spaniards and Filipinos could be resolved peacefully. However, Madrid soon decided that his appointment was a mistake, and two years later replaced him with a hardliner, General Rafael Izquierdo y Gutiérrez. This governor announced when he stepped off the boat in Manila that he would rule, quote: “by the sword and the cross.” Unquote. His first move was against native soldiers. He considered officers born in the Philippines to be untrustworthy, even if they were full-blooded Europeans, and started replacing them with officers born in Spain. He also told the soldiers in the Engineering and Artillery corps that they would now have to pay taxes they had been exempt from previously, and that in the future they would be required to perform forced labor.

The governor’s harsh behavior prompted 200 Filipino troops at Cavite, a fort just outside of Manila, to plot an uprising. We only have records from the Spanish government about this mutiny, but it looks like the mutineers expected Filipino soldiers inside Manila to join them in a general revolt once they started it. What we know is that it was ill-timed and badly planned. The Filipina girlfriend of one of the Spanish soldiers involved in the plot tipped off the commander of the Cavite garrison, so loyalist soldiers knew something was going on. Then on the night of January 20, 1872, when the conspirators saw some fireworks set off, in celebration of a local holiday, they took it as the signal to begin the uprising. They managed to kill the Spanish officers in the fort, but a regiment armed with cannon was immediately sent from Manila to storm the fort.

Many mutineers were promptly executed, and Governor Izquierdo used the uprising as an excuse to arrest thirty Filipino lawyers, writers and priests who had called for reform. Most were jailed or exiled to distant islands, but the worst punishment fell on three priests, who were accused of starting the whole business. These priests were Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora; all three were born in the Philippines, though Burgos was a full-blooded Spaniard. There was no evidence that they actually had been involved in the plot, though previously Burgos and Gomez had strongly supported reform. As for Zamora, he was mainly known for indulging in card games and cockfights; his only involvement was that he had worked with Burgos in the Manila cathedral. The official transcript of the Inquisition-style trial was never published, but what is known suggests that the whole thing was a travesty of justice. On February 17, 1872, the priests were taken to Manila’s central park, now called the Luneta, and as a crowd of forty thousand Spaniards and Filipinos watched, they were given a sentence you would have expected from the Inquisition – death by garroting. Here each victim was tied in a chair as a metal collar was fastened around his neck, and then the collar was tightened with an iron screw until his neck broke. The priests were then buried in a common, unmarked grave; it is believed that the bones of one of the priests were just discovered in 2016. The Archbishop of Manila refused to defrock the priests, because they had not broken any Church laws, and today’s Filipinos see them as the first martyrs in Philippine politics. Often they refer to the priests as GOMBURZA, a word made by combining their last names.

Now we are up to the most important Philippine nationalist, Jose Rizal y Mercado. If I was a Filipino, I would probably devote an entire episode just to him. Filipinos call Rizal the national hero, and I saw his museum in Manila when I visited the Philippines in 1985. I will read you what Stanley Karnow said in his book about the early years of Rizal’s life. This is a long quote, so get ready. Quote:

<Read Rizal quote>

End quote.

As you can see, Rizal proved he was the equal of any Spaniard by becoming a true Renaissance man, excelling in every subject he tried. For the rest of his life, Rizal would dress not like a native, but in stylish European suits. He chose fiction as the way to express his political views; his first novel, Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”), accurately depicted life in the Philippines, with venal priests, corrupt Spanish officials, and ignorant, servile natives. The message was simple: without reforms, a revolution will erupt, and “the defenseless and innocent will suffer most.” A sequel, El Filibusterismo (“The Subversive”), continued the same theme, and this book was dedicated to Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, the three martyred priests. Both books were banned by the Spanish regime. In 1892 Rizal came home and tried to turn his ideas into action by founding a political party, the Liga Filipina. It wasn’t a revolutionary group, and Rizal never called for independence from Spain, but the Spaniards smelled sedition. The party was outlawed and Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, a town on Mindanao, where he worked as a doctor for the next four years.

Spain’s treatment of Rizal convinced his followers that reform was not the answer; only complete independence would do. One of them, Andres Bonifacio, founded a radical secret society with a tongue-twisting name. This is the longest Filipino name I expect to deal with in this podcast, and I asked my wife to get in front of the microphone and pronounce it for me. Meet Leive Kimball. Here she is:

The society was called Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan.

Thanks, Honey! That long name means the “Exalted and Most Honorable Society of the Sons of the People.” Modern-day Filipinos shorten it to Katipunan or KKK.

Preparing for violent revolution, Bonifacio’s men stole guns from the Spanish armories and sharpened their spears and machetes, also called bolos; in Manila they printed tracts on a newspaper printing press. To get the support of wealthy Filipinos, Bonifacio forged their signatures on the movement’s membership lists, incriminating them in the eyes of the Spaniards and putting them in a position where they had no choice except to rally behind the Katipunan. On August 29, 1896, Bonifacio declared war on Spain, but once the war started he proved to be a poor general. However, one of his lieutenants, twenty-seven-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo, was a genius at guerrilla warfare. Aguinaldo became an immediate hero, leading the Filipinos to an uninterrupted series of victories.

Jose Rizal denounced the uprising; he always thought peaceful solutions were best. Nevertheless, the Katipunan made him its honorary president, and the Spaniards used the uprising as an excuse to get rid of him. In 1896 he volunteered to go to Cuba, as a doctor to treat a yellow fever epidemic, and the governor-general, who was sympathetic to him, gave him and his common-law wife, Josephine Bracken, permission to leave Dapitan. However, the boat they were riding to Cuba made a stop in Barcelona, Spain, and there he was arrested, sent back to Manila, and accused of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. A sham of a trial followed, where fifteen witnesses were coerced to testify against him. Rizal was found guilty of all three charges, and sentenced to death. At dawn on December 30, 1896, Rizal was married to Josephine in a simple ceremony performed by a Jesuit who claimed he had persuaded Rizal to rejoin the Catholic Church. Two hours later he was marched to the Luneta park and shot by a firing squad, on the same spot where the three reformist priests had been executed 24 years earlier. He was thirty-five years old.


At some point during his last days, Rizal composed a long poem in Spanish, Mi ultimo adios, a farewell to the world. He concealed it in an alcohol stove in his dungeon cell, and let his sisters know he had hid something there. Six years later, in 1902, a US congressman, Henry A. Cooper, read the poem before Congress, to show them the Filipinos were not savages that needed civilizing. Eyes moistened as the members heard the verses, and then they passed the bill Cooper had introduced, the Philippine Organic Act of 1902. This was the first step in establishing self-government for the Philippines, and its passage convinced Americans that they had freed the islands from the injustices of Spanish rule – but more about that in the next episode. The poem has fourteen stanzas, and here is the first one. Quote:

“Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,
Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,
With gladness I give you my life, sad and repressed;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.”

End quote.

Like most guerrilla wars, the Katipunan rebellion had the most success in the countryside. But in 1897 the war became a stalemate. No place outside of Manila was safe for Spaniards anymore, but the Katipunan was losing its ability to continue fighting, as supplies of food, water, ammo and medicine were running out. The Katipunan also suffered from internal disputes, resulting in the execution of Bonifacio after he and Aguinaldo quarreled over who would lead the Philippine government after independence. The result was a negotiated settlement between both sides. In return for 800,000 pesos, Aguinaldo agreed to end hostilities, disband the rebel government, and go abroad. The rebels laid down their arms, Aguinaldo moved to Hong Kong, and Spain promised reforms at some time in the future. That might have been the end of the whole matter, but a few months later the United States Navy arrived on the scene.

Here is where I will end the narrative for this episode. We have one more Western nation that will come to Southeast Asia and acquire a colony – the United States of America. The next episode will tell how the Americans did that, and continue our narrative about the Philippines, up to the end of the 1930s. So join me when that episode comes out, in mid-September 2017. That episode will complete our history narrative of Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century, so does anyone want to party like it’s 1899?

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