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Philippine-American War (1898 - 1946)

general douglas macarthur
In Feb., 1899, Aguinaldo led a new revolt, this time against U.S. rule. Defeated on the battlefield, the Filipinos turned to guerrilla warfare, and their defeat became a mammoth project for the United States— Thus began the Philippine-American War, one that cost far more money and took far more lives than the Spanish-American War. Fighting broke out on February 4, 1899, after two American privates on patrol killed three Filipino soldiers in San Juan, Metro Manila. Some 126,000 American soldiers would be committed to the conflict; 4,234 American and 16,000 Filipino soldiers, part of a nationwide guerrilla movement of indeterminate numbers, died. Estimates on civilian deaths during the war range between 250,000 and 1,000,000, largely because of famine and disease. Atrocities were committed by both sides.

The poorly equipped Filipino troops were handily overpowered by American troops in open combat, but they were frightening opponents in guerrilla warfare. Malolos, the revolutionary capital, was captured on March 31, 1899. Aguinaldo and his government escaped, however, establishing a new capital at San Isidro, Nueva Ecija. Antonio Luna, Aguinaldo's most capable military commander, was murdered in June. With his best commander dead and his troops suffering continued defeats as American forces pushed into northern Luzon, Aguinaldo dissolved the regular army in November 1899 and ordered the establishment of decentralized guerrilla commands in each of several military zones. The general population, caught between Americans and rebels, suffered significantly.

The revolution was effectively ended with the capture (1901) of Aguinaldo by Gen. Frederick Funston at Palanan, Isabela on March 23, 1901 and was brought to Manila, but the question of Philippine independence remained a burning issue in the politics of both the United States and the islands. The matter was complex by the growing economic ties between the two countries. Although moderately little American capital was invested in island industries, U.S. trade bulked larger and larger until the Philippines became almost entirely dependent upon the American market. Free trade, established by an act of 1909, was expanded in 1913. Influenced of the uselessness of further resistance, he swore allegiance to the United States and issued a proclamation calling on his compatriots to lay down their arms, officially bringing an end to the war. However, sporadic insurgent resistance continued in various parts of the Philippines, especially in the Muslim south, until 1913.

U.S. colony

Civil government was established by the Americans in 1901, with William Howard Taft as the first American Governor-General of the Philippines. English was declared the official language. Six hundred American teachers were imported aboard the USS Thomas. Also, the Catholic Church was disestablished, and a substantial amount of church land was purchased and redistributed. Some measures of Filipino self-rule were allowed, however. An elected Filipino legislature was established in 1907.

When Woodrow Wilson became U.S. President in 1913, there was a major change in official American policy concerning the Philippines. While the previous Republican administrations had predicted the Philippines as a perpetual American colony, the Wilson administration decided to start a process that would slowly lead to Philippine independence. U.S. administration of the Philippines was declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. Therefore, U.S. officials concentrated on the creation of such practical supports for democratic government as public education and a sound legal system. The Philippines were granted free trade status, with the U.S.

In 1916, the Philippine Autonomy Act, widely known as the Jones Law, was passed by the U.S. Congress. The law which served as the new organic act (or constitution) for the Philippines, stated in its preamble that the ultimate independence of the Philippines would be American policy, subject to the establishment of a stable government. The law placed executive power in the Governor General of the Philippines, appointed by the President of the United States, but established a bicameral Philippine Legislature to replace the elected Philippine Assembly (lower house) and appointive Philippine Commission (upper house) previously in place. The Filipino House of Representatives would be purely elected, while the new Philippine Senate would have the majority of its members elected by senatorial district with senators representing non-Christian areas appointed by the Governor-General.

The 1920s saw alternating periods of cooperation and confrontation with American governors-general, depending on how intent the official who holds an office was on exercising his powers vis-à-vis the Philippine legislature. Members to the elected legislature lost no time in lobbying for immediate and complete independence from the United States. Several independence missions were sent to Washington, D.C. A civil service was formed and was regularly taken over by Filipinos, who had effectively gained control by the end of World War I.

When the Republicans regained power in 1921, the trend toward bringing Filipinos into the government was inverted. Gen. Leonard Wood, who was appointed governor-general, largely replaced Filipino activities with a semi military rule. However, the advent of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s and the first aggressive moves by Japan in Asia (1931) shifted U.S. sentiment sharply toward the granting of immediate independence to the Philippines.

In 1934, the United States Congress, having originally passed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act as a Philippine Independence Act over President Hoover's refusal, only to have the law rejected by the Philippine legislature, finally passed a new Philippine Independence Act, popularly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The law provided for the granting of Philippine independence by 1946.

U.S. rule was accompanied by improvements in the education and health systems of the Philippines; school enrollment rates multiplied fivefold. By the 1930s, literacy rates had reached 50%. Several diseases were virtually eliminated. However, the Philippines remained economically backward. U.S. trade policies encouraged the export of cash crops and the importation of manufactured goods; little industrial development occurred. Meanwhile, landlessness became a serious problem in rural areas; peasants were often reduced to the status of serfs.


The period 1935–1946 would ideally be dedicated to the final adjustments required for a peaceful transition to full independence, great latitude in autonomy being granted in the meantime.

The Hare-Hawes Cutting Act, passed by Congress in 1932, provided for complete independence of the islands in 1945 after 10 years of self-government under U.S. supervision. The bill had been drawn up with the aid of a commission from the Philippines, but Manuel L. Quezon, the leader of the leading Nationalist party, opposed it, partially because of its threat of American tariffs against Philippine products but principally because of the provisions leaving naval bases in U.S. hands. Under his influence, the Philippine legislature rejected the bill. The Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act (1934) closely looks like the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act, but struck the provisions for American bases and carried a promise of further study to correct “imperfections or inequalities.”

The Philippine legislature approved the bill; a constitution, approved by President Roosevelt (Mar., 1935) was accepted by the Philippine people in a vote by the electorate determining public opinion on a question of national importance (May); and Quezon was elected the first president (Sept.). On May 14, 1935, an election to fill the newly created office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was won by Manuel L. Quezon (Nacionalista Party) and a Filipino government was formed on the basis of principles apparently similar to the US Constitution. (See: Philippine National Assembly). When Quezon was inaugurated on Nov. 15, 1935, the Commonwealth was formally established in 1935, featured a very strong executive, a unicameral National Assembly, and a Supreme Court composed entirely of Filipinos for the first time since 1901. The new government embarked on an ambitious agenda of establishing the basis for national defense, greater control over the economy, reforms in education, improvement of transport, the colonization of the island of Mindanao, and the promotion of local capital and industrialization. The Commonwealth however, was also faced with agrarian unrest, an uncertain diplomatic and military situation in South East Asia, and uncertainty about the level of United States commitment to the future Republic of the Philippines.

In 1939-40, the Philippine Constitution was revised to restore a bicameral Congress, and permit the reelection of President Quezon, previously restricted to a single, six-year term. Quezon was reelected in Nov., 1941. To develop defensive forces against possible aggression, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was brought to the islands as military adviser in 1935, and the following year he became field marshal of the Commonwealth army.

During the Commonwealth years, Philippines sent one elected Resident Commissioner to the United States House of Representatives, as Puerto Rico currently does today.