Rocky Road to Independence,1

Since 1962, we Filipinos have been celebrating Independence Day on 12 June.  Before that, it used to be on 4 July, a historical aberration   corrected by Pres. Diosdado Macapagal who said   Filipinos, “…  called the whole world to witness their powerful resolve to consider themselves absolved of allegiance to the Spanish Crown…The Revolution which culminated on 12 June 1898 was the first successful national revolution in Asia since the coming of the West, and the Republic to which it gave birth was the first democratic republic outside of the Western Hemisphere. “

Our road to independence was a rocky one, strewn with treachery, deceit and other obstacles, the most devastating of which was the Philippine-American War. Yet, there were advocates who lent their moral support like the Anti-Imperialist League (AI), established on 2 June 1898 and lasted   until November 1920. The members profile of the AI allowed it to wield its influence rather audaciously.  Among its adherents were a former US president (Grover Cleveland), ex-Cabinet Secretaries (of the Interior, Carl Schurz, of State, John Sherman, Treasury, John Carlisle), Congressmen (like George Sewell Boutwell), Senators (like Ben Tillman), a labor leader (American Labor Federation president, Samuel Gompers) academics (Sandford University president David S. Jordan). Bishop Henry Potter and Andrew Carnegie were members. Perhaps the famous and outspoken was   Mark Twain.  With that impressive roster, it was not easy for the US government to stifle its activities.

The AI’s ultimate objective was to oppose with every legitimate means the acquisition of the Philippine Islands, or of any other colony “away from our shores”. On 30 April 1899, during its first national assembly in Chicago, the AI adopted a resolution that stated: “We earnestly condemn the policy of the present administration in the Philippines. It is the spirit of ‘76 that our government is striving to extinguish in those islands; we denounce the attempt and demand its abandonment. We deplore and resent the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless horror, a deep dishonor to our nation.” The AI distributed millions of leaflets and pamphlets which not only demanded immediate independence for the Philippines, but also discouraged enlistments in the US Army for duty in the islands. Materials shipped to the American troops who were already in the Philippines, were confiscated by the US colonial government.

As a result, the US invasion of the Philippines became a hot issue in the presidential elections in 1900. At the national convention of the Democratic Party, the AI pushed for the insertion of the following statement in the Party’s platform: “We condemn and denounce the Philippine policy of the present administration.  It has embroiled the Republic in an unnecessary war, sacrificed the lives of many of its noblest sons and placed the US previously known and applauded throughout the world as the champion of freedom, in the false and un-American position of crushing with military force the efforts of our former allies to achieve liberty and self-government…”

For their part, Filipino revolutionary leaders were encouraged by the support of the AI.  President Emilio Aguinaldo sent emissaries abroad,  one of them, Sixto Lopez, went to the USA to purposefully establish relations with the Anti-Imperialist League.  On 24 November 1900, Lopez spoke at a meeting and was applauded enthusiastically when he said,” You have only to ask yourselves, would you be satisfied with any government, however good provided by a foreign master?” Back home,  President Aguinaldo issued on 27 June 1900, Philippine Army General Order No. 202 which said,”….in the approaching Presidential election in the United States of America, which takes place in the early part of the coming month of September of the present year, it is  imperative that before that day comes, that is during the months of June, July and August, we give such hard knocks to the Americans that  will resound in our favor in all parts, and set in motion the fall of the Imperialist party which is trying to enslave us.”

The American generals of the Philippine-American War hated the AI and called them traitors.  Major-General Henry Lawton, the one had captured the Indian chief Geronimo, was reported to have said: “If I am shot by a Filipino bullet, it might as well come from one of my own men, because I know from observation confirmed by captured prisoners that the continuance of fighting is chiefly due to reports that are sent out from America…” He was indeed shot by a Filipino bullet fired by a sharp shooter under the command of, ironically enough, General Licerio Geronimo.

General Frederick Funston, Pres. Aguinaldo’s nemesis, revealed, in a speech at the Marquette Club in Chicago (11 March 1902): “Had it not been for the so-called peace party in the States, the insurgents would have been suppressed finally in January 1900. Since that time 600 lives have been sacrificed and millions of dollars have been spent.” He claimed that Aguinaldo himself confessed that they were encouraged, “…to continue their warfare by the copperhead sentiments of people here in the States…”

After the capture of Aguinaldo, the AI showed no quarter to their promotion of Philippine independence. Consequently, in 1904, Governor-General Luke Wright felt he had to write an open letter declaring that continued agitation for Philippine independence in the USA itself was “distinctly injurious” to the American colonial regime because it fanned the Filipinos’ clamor for immediate independence. When the Philippine Assembly was inaugurated in 1907, it sent Filipino Resident Commissioners to the USA   with tacit instructions to form an alliance with the AI. One of them was Manuel L. Quezon who went on a speaking tour, arranged by the AI, to present to the American people the issue of Philippine Independence.

When the Democrats came into power in 1912, the AI lobbied for Philippine independence and was among those who prepared the Jones Bill  passed by the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, commended the AI for its devotion to Philippine independence. Originally, the Jones Bill granted Philippine independence within 2 to 4 years, but in its final form, that provision was deleted. Although disappointed, the AI urged M. L. Quezon to continue the crusade. Curiously enough, Quezon seemed reluctant to do so during the Philippine Independent Mission to the USA which made the AI   doubt the sincerity of Filipino political leaders.  It seemed like they “…feared the effects of immediate separation from the United States…” the AI noticed, “and were pretending to demand independence because the Filipino people wanted them to do so.” …. (more)