TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY: 21 December 1898 — After successfully invading Filipinas and wresting our islands from Madre España, the United States of América was all set to become a world power. Then US President William McKinley issued his “Benevolent Assimilation” proclamation.
The destruction of the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila by the United States naval squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Dewey, followed by the reduction of the city and the surrender of the Spanish forces, practically effected the conquest of the Philippine Islands and the suspension of the Spanish sovereignty therein. With the signature of the treaty of peace between the United States and Spain by their respective plenipotentiaries at Paris on the 10th instant, and as a result of the victories of American arms, the future control, disposition, and government of the Philippine Islands are ceded to the United States. In the fulfillment of the rights of sovereignity thus acquired and the responsible obligations of government thus assumed, the actual occupation and administration of the entire group of the Philippine Islands becomes immediately necessary, and the military government heretofore maintained by the United States in the city, harbor, and bay of Manila is to be extended with all possible despatch to the whole of the ceded territory.
In performing this duty, the military commander of the United States is enjoined to make known to the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands that in succeeding to the sovereignity of Spain, in severing the former political relations, and in establishing a new political power, the authority of the United States is to be exerted for the securing of the persons and property of the people of the islands and for the confirmation of all their private rights and relations. It will be the duty of the commander of the forces of occupation to announce and proclaim in the most public manner that we come, not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives in their homes, in their employments, and in their personal and religious rights. All persons who, either by active aid or by honest submission, co-operate with the Government of the United States to give effect to these beneficent purposes will receive the reward of its support and protection. All others will be brought within the lawful rule we have assumed, with firmness if need be, but without severity, so far as possible. Within the absolute domain of military authority, which necessarily is and must remain supreme in the ceded territory until the legislation of the United States shall otherwise provide, the municipal laws of the territory in respect to private rights and property and the repression of crime are to be considered as continuing in force, and to be administered by the ordinary tribunals, so far as practicable. The operations of civil and municipal government are to be performed by such officers as may accept the supremacy of the United States by taking the oath of allegiance, or by officers chosen, as far as practicable, from the inhabitants of the islands. While the control of all the public property and the revenues of the state passes with the cession, and while the use and management of all public means of transportation are necessarily reserved to the authority of the United States, private property, whether belonging to individuals or corporations, is to be respected except for cause duly established. The taxes and duties heretofore payable by the inhabitants to the late government become payable to the authorities of the United States unless it be seen fit to substitute for them other reasonable rates or modes of contribution to the expenses of government, whether general or local. If private property be taken for military use, it shall be paid for when possible in cash, at a fair valuation, and when payment in cash is not practicable, receipts are to be given. All ports and places in the Philippine Islands in the actual possession of the land and naval forces of the United States will be opened to the commerce of all friendly nations. All goods and wares not prohibited for military reasons by due announcement of the military authority will be admitted upon payment of such duties and other charges as shall be in force at the time of their importation. Finally, it should be the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule. In the fulfillment of this high mission, supporting the temperate administration of affairs for the greatest good of the governed, there must be sedulously maintained the strong arm of authority, to repress disturbance and to overcome all obstacles to the bestowal of the blessings of good and stable government upon the people of the Philippine Islands under the free flag of the United States.
–President William McKinley–
How touching. But each time I hear the words “benevolent assimilation”, this editorial cartoon always comes to mind…
The cartoon above was published in the New York Journal on 5 May 1902. It depicted the massacre of the people of Balangiga, Sámar Oriental (Eastern Sámar). Children over ten years old were not spared.
I remember one WASP apologist claiming that although there was indeed an order to carry out the massacre, it was not complied with. But whether or not it wasn’t, the fact still remains that there really was an order from the higher-ups.
But that is just Balanguiga. Elsewhere, we read Tomás Mascardo, a Caviteño general who fought against the US invaders, as he described how the benevolent assimilationists carried out their admirable tasks toward Filipinos.
En Manila y provincias, regía con todo su rigor la ley marcial. Se registraban torturas, que eran inconcebibles en un ejército civilizado.
EL TORMENTO DEL AGUA: era de dos clases. Una consistía en maniatar a la persona a quien se trataba de someter al suplicio, después de lo cual se la colocaba horizontalmente boca arriba. Una vez en esta posición, se le introducía un hierro cilíndrico entre las mandíbulas, forzándole así a tener la boca desmesuradamente abierta. Después se vertía gran cantidad de agua por la laringe y fosas nasales hasta matar de asfixia al infeliz paciente u obligarle a hacer cualquier declaración que cuando menos justificara la detención de que había sido objeto.
La otra clase se practicaba de la siguiente manera: fijábase una polea sencilla en un arco levantado sobre un pozo de agua. Se suspendía de ella al atormentado con los pies hacia arrib y se le bajaba rápidamente hasta sumergirlo en el agua durante un tiempo más o menos prolongado según la resistencia del paciente, pasado lo cual se le hacía subir de nuevo para sumergirlo otra vez hasta conseguir los resultados arriba dichos.
EL TORMENTO DE AZOTES: consistía en golpear al presunto culpable con el cañón y la culata del fusil en la cavidad torácica, en el abdómen y en todas las partes más sensibles del cuerpo. Si esto no bastaba para obligarle a admitir la acusación contra él formulada, se le sujetaba a una columna y se le comenzaba a azotar con bejucos espinosos hasta rasgarle las carnes y ver completamente despedazados aquellas, matándole de hermorragia en medio de dolores infernales.
EL TORMENTO DEL SOL: consistía en dedicar ducrante el día a trabajos forzados al supuesto reo en la plaza del cuartel americano, sufriendo, con la cabeza descubierta, los calcinantes y mortales rayos del sol tropical, sin darle una gota de agua ni aun después de las comidas.
Below is my translation.
Martial Law governed Manila and the provinces in all its rigor. The tortures that were recorded were inconceivable in a civilized army.
WATER TORTURE: It was of two kinds. One was to tie the hands of the person who was to be tortured, after which he is placed flat on his back. Once in this position, a cylindrical iron was inserted between his jaws, thus forcing him to have his mouth wide open. A large amount of water was then poured through the larynx and nostrils until the poor recipient either drowned to death or is forced to make any statement that would at least justify the detention he had been subjected to.
The other kind is practiced as follows: a single pulley was fixed on an arc raised over a well. The tormented person was suspended from the arc with his feet up and quickly lowered to submerge him into the water for a more or less prolonged time, according to the victim’s resistance, after which he was raised again only to be submerged once more until the abovementioned statements are retrieved from him.
FLOGGING: Hitting the suspect with the barrel and the butt of the rifle in the chest, abdomen, and all the most sensitive parts of the body. If this was not enough to force him to admit the accusation made against him, he is held down to a column and lashed with thorny vines until his flesh was ripped and shattered, killing him of blood loss while in the midst of hellish pain.
SUN TORTURE: Subjecting the accused to forced labor during the day in the American barracks square. With his head uncovered, he suffers the scorching and deadly rays of the tropical sun, without even receiving a drop of water after meals.
According to McKinley in 1900, after freeing us from Spain, he received some sort of epiphany: that the responsibilities of empire had been thrust upon the United States by “the hand of almighty God.” After spending sleepless nights in the White House and praying for “light and guidance”, it dawned upon him that “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, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”
Educate Filipinos? We already have the Universidad de Santo Tomás since 1611; McKinley’s empire was not even a country yet during that time — it was still a haven for colonizers.
Uplift and civilize Filipinos? We already had book culture as early as the 16th century. Slavery was abolished. We were exporting rice, coffee, and hemp to other countries. Our artists bested their European counterparts in competitions. We developed tropical baroque architecture which is now being prized even by heritage advocates overseas. We’ve been taught fine and courteous manners that were not just mimicked but even rivaled those of bejeweled ladies and smart gentlemen of Europe. Our ilustrados were already reading Hugo, Voltaire, Diderot, and all those liberal thinkers of the Enlightenment. So what was there to civilize? Our lingua franca was a major European language! As late as the 1960s, Uncle Sam still had to contend with racist prejudices.
Christianize Filipinos? Haven’t we been hearing of Christ Jesus since 1521? And during those centuries that our forebears were joyously celebrating Noche Buena with their loved ones, what Uncle Sam could only boast of were…
…totem poles. One couldn’t even determine if those dull poles were already existing in 1611.