TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY
Today marks the 119th anniversary of the controversial Treaty of Paris of 1898. Controversial, because it involved the alleged “sale” of our country to the United States of América by Spain. Many Filipinos today, still bitter about our past which they do not fully understand, continue to blame Spain for treating us as a commodity when the former mother country “sold” us to the US for a paltry $20 million.
But this is far from the truth.
As a backgrounder, there had been several treaties that were made in Paris throughout history, most of which were peace treaties between warring nations, and how those wars had to be concluded. The first Treaty of Paris happened in 1229 which ended the Albigensian Crusade while the most recent happened just two years ago but was all about climate change.
Basically, the treaty that happened on 10 December 1898 followed the Spanish-American War in which Spain lost, thus forcing her to relinquish nearly all of her remaining territories to the US. These were Puerto Rico, Guam, and Filipinas (Cuba was never ceded to the US; she gained her independence four years later, but was still under the auspices of the future Imperialist). The cession of our country involved the abovementioned payment of $20 million from the United States to Spain.
But was this exchange of money considered as a sale? The answer is in the negative. The keyword to understanding this is the word “cession” which appears three times throughout the text of the treaty, while its transitive verb (cedes/ceded) appears twelve times. Cession is not synonymous to sale. Generally speaking, cession means the act of giving up something, usually land or territory, by the agreement in a formal treaty, and this action is done usually after a war wherein a losing country might make a cession of part of its land to the victor. But sale has all the intents and purposes of selling something at the very onset. The fact still remains that Spain never intended to sell Filipinas nor any of her overseas territories in the first place. She was only forced to do so because she lost a war. Being the losing country, logic dicates that she didn’t have much of a say in the treaty.
It should be noted that the Spanish delegates to the treaty tried the best that they could to retain at least parts of Filipinas. Initially, they had planned to cede only Mindanáo and the Sulú Archipielago. There were also suggestions to cede only Luzón. However, then US President William McKinley made it clear that the whole of Filipinas should be acquired.
…to accept merely Luzón, leaving the rest of the islands subject to Spanish rule, or to be the subject of future contention, cannot be justified on political, commercial, or humanitarian grounds. The cessation must be the whole archipelago or none. The latter is wholly inadmissible, and the former must therefore be required.
It is clear from the above that the US never intended to liberate us from Spain. It merely took over. But in the spirit of fairness (and perhaps as “consuelo de bobo“), the US paid Spain $20 million for the acquisition of Filipinas. Not to be a formal territory but as a mere colony.
This was not the first time that the US and Spain had such a treaty. In 1819, the Adams–Onís Treaty was signed by the two countries following a heated border dispute. That treaty involved the cession of Florida, a Spanish territory, to the US. Also, it should be remembered that China’s Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong and Kowloon to the United Kingdom following her defeat in the Opium Wars (1839–1842; 1856–1860).
It is always obvious that losing countries do not profit from a war. The receipt of $20 million did not make Spain a superpower. But the acquisition of Filipinas by the United States marked Uncle Sam’s beginning as a world power.