Excerpts from: The Filipino Americans (From 1763 to the Present)
I. The Philippine American War
The Filipinos had become suspicious of the true motives of the United States in going to the Philippines. In fact, they were prevented by the Americans from entering Manila after its fall. Their suspicions were confirmed by the Treaty of Paris under which Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. Neither Spain nor the United States gave Felipe Agoncillo, Aguinaldo’s special envoy, a chance to present the wishes of the Filipinos in the Paris peace talks. Suspicion turned to hostility, and war between the two sides became inevitable. The Filipinos were outraged when they learned that Spain, which no longer controlled the Philippines, had ceded the country to the United States.
Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation.
On December 21, 1898, President William Mckinley announced his decision to keep the Philippines as an American colonial possession.
Entitled “Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation,” the McKinley proclamation was announced in the Philippines on January 4, 1899. It stated clearly the intention of the United States to stay permanently in the Philippines. The mission of the United States was described by McKinley as one of “benevolent assimilation.” In the same proclamation, General Elwell Otis was named the commander of American ground forces in the Philippines, which was to “extend by force American sovereignty over this country.”
On January 5, 1899, Aguinaldo issued a counter-proclamation. He warned that his government was prepared to fight any American attempt to forcibly take over the country. This sounded like a declaration of war to the American military although Aguinaldo had no wish to get into a war with the United States. He knew that war would only cause untold suffering to the Filipino people. He was still hopeful that the situation could be saved by peaceful negotiations between him and the American military leaders in the Philippines. Aguinaldo wrote General Elwell S. Otis calling for peaceful negotiations.
On January 9, 1899, Otis appointed three American officers to meet with three Filipino military officials appointed by Aguinaldo. However, they didn't accomplish anything.
“Halt!” Then Bang! Bang! Bang!
The tension between the Americans and the Filipinos was so great that it was easy to precipitate a war. On the night of February 4, 1899, as described in Aguinaldo: A Narrative of Filipino Ambitions, (E. Wildman 1901, Norwood Press, Norwood, MA) an American sentry, Private William W. Grayson, with another soldier, encountered three armed Filipinos on a bridge in San Juan del Monte near Manila.
Recalling the incident, Grayson said:
About eight o’clock, Miller and I were cautiously pacing our district. We came to a fence and were trying to see what the Filipinos were up to.
Suddenly, near at hand, on our left, there was a low but unmistakable Filipino outpost signal whistle. It was immediately answered by a similar whistle about twenty-five yards to the right. Then a red lantern flashed a signal from blockhouse number 7. We had never seen such a sign used before. In a moment, something rose up slowly in front of us. It was a Filipino. I yelled “Halt!” and made it pretty loud, for I was accustomed to challenging the officer of the guard in approved military style. I challenged him with another loud “halt!” Then he shouted “halto!” to me. Well, I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him. He dropped. If I didn’t kill him, I guess he died of fright. Two Filipinos sprang out of the gateway about 15 feet from us. I called “halt!” and Miller fired and dropped one. I saw that another was left. Well, I think I got my second Filipino that time....
The Filipino troops fired back at the American lines and before the night was over, fighting had broken out between Filipino and American forces. Most of the Filipino commanders at that time were attending a dance in Malolos, Bulacan Province. When told of the outbreak of hostilities, they rushed back to their units, which were already shooting it out with American troops.
When war finally came, Aguinaldo still tried to stop it by sending an emissary to General Otis to appeal for an end to the fighting. But Otis responded, “fighting, having begun, must go on to the grim end.”
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