The Illusion of Independence

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Friday, June 13, 2014


JUNE 12, 1898 is celebrated as Philippine Independence Day. However, the name “Independence Day” might actually be a misnomer. If one were to read the text of the Declaration of Independence itself, the document, while indeed proclaiming independence, seems to make the Philippines look like a protectorate of the United States. Paragraph 6 of the Philippine Declaration of Independence states:

“And having as witness to the rectitude of our intentions the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and under the protection of the Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, the United States of America, we do hereby proclaim and declare solemnly in the name and by authority of the people of these Philippine Islands…”

Add to that the fact that there were 98 signatories, including one Col. L. M. Johnson, United States Army; the only non-Filipino signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

The idea of complete Philippine independence was so inconceivable to Brig. Gen. Robert P. Hughes that he told the US Congress that Filipinos who wanted freedom had "no more idea of its meaning than a shepherd dog." An early statement of American policy declared that “only through American occupation” was “the idea of a free, self-governing and united Filipino commonwealth at all conceivable.”

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Any dreams that Aguinaldo had of fulfilling his role as dictator (a title conferred upon him in the declaration) were short lived, since neither the United States nor Spain acknowledged full Philippine independence. The Spanish, believing that they still held full control over the country, were also fighting a losing war against the United States at the time. America had been making plans about the annexation of the Philippines, and keeping control over a chain of islands with restless natives was becoming increasingly stressful for the Spanish crown.

The days after the signing were chaotic – there were reports of Filipino auxiliary units rising up and killing their Spanish officers, foreign nationals leaving the country due to strife, and the arrival of Germany’s Ostasiatische Kreuzergeschwader (East Asia Squadron) in Manila Bay.

Admiral Otto von Diedrichs, commanding officer of the East Asia Squadron, had orders to protect German interests in the Philippines, and if possible, seize a colonial concession in the Philippines. The United States Navy, however, was already on the scene, and proceeded to blockade Manila Bay. The Germans, however, bypassed the blockade to bring supplies to their besieged Spanish allies.

When a large US Expeditionary Force arrived, the Germans withdrew, allowing United States ground forces to enter Manila and occupy the city.
Aguinaldo’s term as dictator did not last very long, and he was not taken seriously by either of the foreign powers that held sway over Philippine affairs at the time. To the Spanish, he was nothing but a bandit chief, and to the United States, he was almost like a puppet president. In fact, the Philippine-American War was called the “Philippine Insurrection” since the United States never fully recognized Philippine sovereignty.

Actual independence from the United States came much later, on the 4th of July, 1946, when the Philippines was officially recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States government and granted its freedom.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 13, 2014.

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