Lamentation Day

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Thursday, June 12, 2014


FILIPINOS are taught that the Philippines gained its independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. That was the first time the Philippine flag was unfurled and the Marcha Nacional Filipinas, which later became the Philippine National Anthem, was played in public.

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo made the proclamation in Kawit, Cavite in the Tagalog Region. However, the rest of the country--northern Luzon, southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao--remained outside his “Republic’s” control.

A month before, Aguinaldo was in exile in Hong Kong. He and other leaders of the Filipino revolutionary forces had agreed to leave the archipelago the year before after signing a truce with the Spanish colonial government in exchange for 800,000 pesos.

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The US agreed to transport him back to Cavite on board USS McCulloch hoping he and his forces would help wrest control of the islands from Spain, which had been administering the colonial backwater for the last 365 years.

But 18 days before his return, on May 1, 1898, the US had already destroyed the obsolete Spanish fleet anchored at Manila Bay.

The US had shipped Aguinaldo back to the islands to be a thorn on the Spanish backside. History tells us that it had no intention of helping Aguinaldo achieve independence for the country, considering the latter’s limited control and influence.

Spain and the US had never recognized Aguinaldo’s declaration, or the Acta de la proclamacion de independencia del pueblo Filipino.

On Aug. 12, 1898, US troops finally captured Manila in what later turned out to be a mock battle so there would be fewer casualties on both sides and most importantly, the Spanish colonial government could save face.

But when Aguinaldo wanted to march into the city with his men, the US refused them entry to the capital.

The act was greatly resented by the US’s former allies and it marked the end of US-Filipino collaboration.

When Spain finally sat down with the US for the signing of a “peace treaty” in Paris, Aguinaldo and other local leaders were snubbed.

Spain sold the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US for $20 million.

In 1899, President William McKinley mused about his country’s predicament: “When I realized the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them... And one night late it came to me this way--I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain--that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) That we could turn them over to France and Germany--our commercial rivals in the Orient--that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) That we could not leave them to themselves--they were unfit for self-government--and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) That there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could do by them.”

And over the next four years, the US did its best to brutally quell any form of insurrection, and committed atrocities that are still stuff of legend.

In the town of Balangiga in Samar, 48 members of the US 9th Infantry were killed by the townspeople with the help of rebels on Sept. 28, 1901.

In retaliation, Brig. Gen. Jacob H. Smith ordered the killing of every male over 10 years old.

American troops swept across the island, killing civilians and draft animals and destroying towns.

The exact number of dead, which included women and children, could not be ascertained, but local historians said it might have been as high as 50,000.

So no, independence was never gained on June 12. Rather, Filipinos should be taught that on this day we should mourn the what-could-have-been had the US kept its word.

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

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