Imperialism is the policy of extending one nation’s authority over another through acquiring territory or establishing political or economic dominance.
During the Age of Imperialism in the 1870s, Europe owned one-fifth of Earth’s total land mass, becoming an extremely dominant and forceful participant in world politics. Imperialistic powers wanted raw materials and had to compete with other countries to gain them. Colonies in these territories meant power and glory for imperialists and the forceful spread of Christianity. Horrific cases of absolute control were justified through the White Man’s Burden, or an obligation to help less fortunate countries because they were incapable of self-rule.
The Philippines were a territory imperialistic countries sought to colonize because of its’ abundant natural resources (Appendix 1). As seen in the map, the Philippines had major fishing ports, several forests, and plentiful crops such as rice, corn, sugarcane, and tobacco. Spain, an imperialistic power, sought to colonize the Philippines for economic reasons, such as control of the Spice Islands and their resources (www.britannica.
com). Spain additionally wanted to colonize the Philippines to convert the natives to Christianity (www.history.ucsb.
edu). The United States also desired the Philippines, primarily because of the White Man’s burden (www.history.state.gov). The Spanish colonized the Philippines long before the Age of Imperialism, abusing the land and people for hundreds of years. Under Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines went through political turmoil and several rebellions before finally being freed in 1948 (www.historyandheadlines.
com). For over 300 years, citizens of the Philippines had suffered racism, unfair labor practices, and high taxation under the rule of the Spanish regime. Emilio Aguinaldo recognized that the time had come for an anti-colonialism revolt and that he was the right person to lead it because of his background and his dedication to his people.
Before Spain captured the Philippines, it was an island nation organized in tribes that were ruled by chiefs. Each tribe differed in terms of cultural achievement; some areas of the Philippines were unsophisticated, inhabited by “hill-folk” who were “pagan and uncivilized”, while other coastal areas had literate tribes who were educated and traded with China (Scribner’s 26). When Spain seized power in 1521, “native political organization could offer only very weak resistance. There was no strong national government.
.. only small independent communities under more or less independent rulers” (Scribner’s 26). The Spanish controlled the Philippines through two groups, the church and state. The state “assumed administrative responsibility”, while “responsibility for conversion of the indigenous population to Christianity was assigned to several religious orders” (www.countrystudies.us).
The Spanish allowed local leaders to continue ruling villages, however Spanish officials controlled the national government. By doing so, the Spanish ruled indirectly; a system of government in which rulers allow natives to retain their local leaders and basic privileges. When the US later seized power from the Spanish, the base political systems remained the same. Village leaders stayed in power, but trained American officials controlled the political and economic systems of the Philippines. This was a system of direct rule, in which the United States had total control over all aspects of Filipino lives. After centuries of being oppressed and mistreated by the Spanish, and later the United States, the Filipinos needed a ruler to help them gain back their undeniable rights, most of all independence.Emilio Aguinaldo was the right leader at the right time to lead an anti-colonialism revolt.
Born on March 22, 1869, in Kawit, Cavite, Philippines, Aguinaldo had a wealthy family with seven siblings (www.biography.com). His father was a beloved mayor who influenced Aguinaldo’s beliefs from a young age, also a firm critic of imperialism.
Aguinaldo and his father both believed that the Philippines should be ruled by Filipinos, and that “every person living in the Philippines had the right to participate in their own form of government and to create a nation-state that adhered to their own rules and customs” (Stephen). Growing up, Aguinaldo never lived in a free country which led to his opposal to imperialism. He was especially angered by the fact that Spain had no cultural knowledge of the people they ruled from thousands of miles away.
After 300 years of racism, unfair labor practices, and high taxes, Filipino society finally had enough of the brutal Spanish regime. Criollos, or Creoles, were full-blooded Spaniards born in the Philippines who were treated much worse than those born in Spain. In 1823, an order from Spain stated that Spanish officers had priority over Creole officers, in essence affirming that Criollos were subordinate to Spaniards (Floro 136). The government then replaced Creoles with Peninsulares, Spaniards, in the military. The Spanish government expelled Criollo public officials and military officers who felt discontent about their previous actions. Military officers were infuriated by this banishment, and planned the revolt known as the “Palmero Conspiracy.
” On June 1, 1823, 800 Creoles and Filipinos seized the city hall, Manila Cathedral, and the royal palace. They killed the former governor and the lieutenant governor who were responsible for exiling the Creoles. Spanish soldiers ended the rebellion and captured and executed 23 revolutionaries, but the damage to the Spanish regime had been done (Floro 140). As a result, more citizens of the Philippines began to doubt the right of the Spanish to rule.
The tensions between Filipino soldiers and their Spanish officers grew until another uprising at Fort San Felipe called the Cavite Mutiny on January 20, 1872. Around 200 people rebelled, hoping that the revolt would elevate to a national uprising and finally free them from the brutal regime. Unfortunately, the movement was unsuccessful and the government executed most of the participants (www.britannica.com). The Spanish government had alienated the army, a move they would regret in less than 20 years.
By mistreating soldiers, more Filipinos supported rebellion and joined movements like Aguinaldo’s. For over 300 years, the Spanish government had also mistreated Filipinos through their unfair labor practices. Filipinos were required to work several jobs under miserable conditions, regardless of their age. One such system was called the Encomienda system, a form of enslavement in which natives were forced to pay Spaniards in labor and gold, and were punished severely for resistance (http://www.encyclopedia.com). Anger grew toward the Spanish imperialistic power as the quality of life diminished. The Filipino people were living in poverty.
On top of this, the Filipinos were taxed heavily by the Spanish. One type of taxation was the tribute to the colonial government, a payment of products like tobacco, or gold that produced anger from an already struggling society. The bandalâ was another type of tax in which Filipino goods, such as rice, were forcibly collected annually. These unfair forms of taxation infuriated everyone; even the Spaniards could see society was on the brink of rebellion (www.jstor.org).
Twenty years later in the Spanish-American war, violated natives were all too inclined to participate. The tense relations between the Spanish and Filipinos resulting from racism, unfair labor practices and high taxes paved the way to a society ready to revolt with Emilio Aguinaldo.Emilio Aguinaldo’s social status gave him opportunities which ensured an extensive education and widespread political connections. These possibilities allowed him to become a skilled writer and to gain political experience. Emilio Aguinaldo was one of the 6% of Filipinos to go to school, which was an advantage he had over other leaders (Angeles 7-8).
He developed his writing skills in the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and was able to use them to compose arguments against imperialism for the rebel movement. He became well known for his letters to imperialistic powers, such as “Emilio Aguinaldo’s Letter to the American People.” In this piece, Aguinaldo questioned the motives of imperialists: “Why do the Imperialists wish to subjugate us? What do they intend to do with us? Do they expect us to surrender — to yield our inalienable rights, our homes, our properties, our lives, our future destinies, to absolute control” (www.learner.org). Aguinaldo was a powerful writer and his letter opened the eyes of many American people. His inspiring letter showed the Filipinos that their fight against imperialism wouldn’t be over until it was won, and that someone was fighting for them in a time of darkness. His letter also motivated people to revolt against the Americans in power.
Aguinaldo’s position in society was another advantage he had over other rebel leaders. His family’s influence extended into politics, even applying to Aguinaldo’s election “as capitan municipal (or mayor) of Kawit in 1895” at the young age of 26 (Angeles 13). Aguinaldo gained the citizens’ trust and support during his mayorship. More importantly, he learned how to lead people and gained political experience that would be useful when leading the rebel movement. During his administration, Aguinaldo became more aware of the opposition to Spanish rule within the Philippines. In 1895, he became a member of the Freemasonry rebel group, whose goals were to liberalize the Philippines and defend the poor. Aguinaldo rose quickly through its ranks until he became the leader (www.
biography.com). As a leader of the Freemasonry, he learned more about the planned revolution against Spain and gained leadership skills. He became so involved in the rebel movement that he was adamant in helping the Filipinos gain their independence. Emilio Aguinaldo was determined to free the Filipinos from any imperial powers; so tenacious in his methods that he did whatever he felt would benefit the Philippines.
He abandoned a peace treaty with Spain to liberalize his people, was personally involved in the battles, and revolutionized warfare techniques with the guerrilla method. In 1897 at Biak-na-Bato, Aguinaldo convened an assembly with his men to sign a peace treaty with Spain. Spain did not have the troops and funds that were necessary for a war with the Philippines, so the two groups made a compromise. In exchange for Aguinaldo’s exile to Hong-Kong and dissolvement of his revolutionary government, the Spanish would reform the government by allowing Filipino representation in the government, and give money to Aguinaldo and his fellow revolutionaries (www.philippine-history.
org). During his exile, Aguinaldo never gave up on the revolution. He reorganized his government and made a new plan to fully liberalize the Philippines.
He used the money the Spanish government had given him to buy weapons for his movement (world.time.com).
However, neither group trusted the other and their harbored suspicions caused the truce to fail. A year after signing the treaty, Aguinaldo made arrangements with the Americans to fight against Spain in the Spanish-American War. In 1898, he returned to the Philippines, breaking the treaty of Biak-Na-Bato for the good of Filipinos and reignited his movement against Spain (www.loc.gov). Aguinaldo’s dedication to his people paid off on the battlefield, as seen in the Battle of Imus and Battle of Zapote Bridge. Even when his men were outnumbered and at a technological disadvantage, Aguinaldo won the battles.
At the Battle of Imus in 1896, after Aguinaldo’s illegal return to the Philippines, he laid siege to the Imus Estate to lure the Spanish out. The enemy general, Ernesto de Aguirre, fell for Aguinaldo’s plan and left the estate with hundreds more soldiers than Aguinaldo. Although Aguinaldo fought a larger, more advanced army, he still won the battle (www.
britannica.com). Days later, Aguirre returned to the battlefield with an increased force of 3,000 men. When his troops arrived, Aguinaldo’s hidden rebels surprised the Spanish and killed nearly all the men and their general. The Battle of Zapote Bridge against the Spanish was another example of Aguinaldo’s skills in battle.
20,000 trained Spanish soldiers armed with modernized guns advanced on Aguinaldo’s army of 10,000, which consisted of peasants and soldiers armed with spears and improvised firearms. Aguinaldo came up with an innovative plan: to line the bridge the Spaniards would cross with dynamite. Nearly one-fifth of the Spanish soldiers were dead, injured, or captured; a shocking win that improved the rebels’ morale. Aguinaldo was able to exercise more direct leadership over his men than any other leader of the time. He gave orders and his men obeyed them because they trusted him to win the fight (nationalhumanitiescenter.
org). Even with these innovative battle techniques, Emilio Aguinaldo’s army was at a severe disadvantage, lacking the weapons, soldiers, and outside support needed to beat the far more advanced American army who colonized the Philippines immediately after Spain had left. Almost all the islands surrounding the Philippines were under a brutal colonial rule and Aguinaldo was determined that his people would not share the same fate (Appendix 2). Aguinaldo knew he needed an unconventional method to win the war, so he set up “guerrilla units that would carry on the war unconventionally, relying on ambush, concealment, and the avoidance of set-piece battles” (www.filipinoamericanwar.
com). The guerrilla technique posed a problem for the Americans because it was extremely difficult to eliminate an enemy that struck at any time at any place. It was effective in every battle, and led to consistent wins for the rebels such as in the Battles of Paye, Catubig, Makahambus, Pulang Lupa, Balangiga and Mabitac (Kalaw 31). His brutal methods of guerrilla warfare set him apart from other leaders because none had previously applied it to battle. His counterparts lost most battles due to the lack of weapons and soldiers, and inexperience.
Aguinaldo was resourceful, he used all the assets he had to win. He even had an overarching plan for the war: to fight a war of attrition, and wear down the Americans enough so that they would give up the Philippines. The Filipinos persistence in their attacks and the sheer vastness of American casualties eventually drove the Americans out. Emilio Aguinaldo was the right leader for the Philippines at the right time. At the time, Spain faced a number of internal problems, so its control over the Philippines was crumbling due to centuries of racism, enslavement, and high taxes of the natives.
Emilio Aguinaldo’s education and social status gave him the political background and influence he would need to become a rebel leader. He took the rebellion to extremes, even turning to violence and betraying a treaty to free the Philippines. He freed the Philippines from two imperialistic powers, Spain and the United States. Emilio Aguinaldo loved his country. In a letter to the American people, in 1899, he stated “God Almighty knows how unjust is the war which the Imperial arms have provoked and are maintaining against our unfortunate country!.
.. without the least delay, stop this unspeakable horror,” it was obvious how much he hated imperialism. This was a man with a goal, and one he wholeheartedly believed. Emilio Aguinaldo was willing to do whatever he thought was necessary to free the Filipinos, even turning to violence. This was especially important because his cause faced extreme resistance from imperialists. Not only did he liberalize the Philippines, but he created a sense of nationalism in his country, instilling national pride in Filipinos by creating a national anthem, flag, and political system still in use today (www.
questiaschool.com). Emilio Aguinaldo was the first president of the Philippines and is recognized today as a national hero for liberalizing the Philippines from the imperial powers that controlled it for centuries.