When historical markers, shrines pack tales of lies
(Editor’s Note: The author is a senior history researcher of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.)
The Philippines makes it a point to remember her Independence Day, as shown in the memorials and shrines dotting the landscape, telling tales of battles and extolling the sacrifices of the fighters for freedom.
Indeed, June 12, 1898, the day Philippine independence was proclaimed in Kawit, Cavite, is a hallowed date in our history.
Our Independence Day celebration officially begins on May 28, “Flag Day,” and culminates on June 12. But it was after June 12, 1898, that Filipinos embarked on a more brutal conflict—the war against the United States—in their quest for total independence.
The Philippines has long recognized the fact that the United States waged a war of aggression on Filipinos, and actually commemorates battles, won or lost, against US soldiers, even making heroes of Filipino soldiers hanged as bandits by Americans.
What’s more, the Philippines is now remembering the massacres of Filipino civilians by US soldiers.
In America, such events are hushed up. There is no shrine or memorial marking the Filipino-American War, although there are memorials on the Spanish-American War.
On the base of these monuments is a bronze plaque with the words “Spanish-American War, 1898-1902, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippine Islands, USA.” There is also an illustration of a native woman with her chains broken, kneeling before the US soldier and sailor who, it appears, liberated her.
In reality, any Filipino woman seeing American soldiers at that time would have fled to the mountains, knowing how capable they were in killing civilians.
There is a large bronze plaque in the Minnesota capitol honoring the 13th Minnesota State Infantry. It details how the unit volunteered to campaign against “insurgent Filipinos under Chief Aguinaldo.”
Although recognizing the conflict in the Philippines, the plaque is full of misinformation. The 13th Minnesota State Infantry never volunteered for the “Philippine insurrection.” They did volunteer to fight the Spaniards, but not the “Niggers” in the Philippines, as one Minnesota soldier revealed.
And there was no Philippine insurrection. The term falsely depicts US sovereignty over the Philippines, against which Filipinos rebelled. It was clearly a war of conquest as the Philippines had declared her independence much earlier.
Calling Emilio Aguinaldo “chief” is another tell-tale blunder, an American attempt to relegate the general and his fighting Filipinos to a minor group or “tribe.”
This is ironic because before the Filipino-American War erupted, the Americans considered Aguinaldo the leader of the Filipinos. They even consulted him and enlisted his help during the Spanish-American War.
In duration, effort and loss of lives, the Filipino-American War far outweighed the Spanish-American War.
Parallels in Vietnam
There was a brief resurgence of memory about the Filipino-American War in the 1960s, when the Americans were deeply mired in the Vietnam War.
The parallels between the wars in the Philippines and in Vietnam are many.
The United States was initially friendly with the colonized people, and then turned on them, reestablishing colonialism. The Filipinos were allies against Spain, while the Vietnamese were allies against the Japanese. The Americans replaced Spain in the Philippines; in Vietnam they replaced the French.
In both conflicts, the US government lied to the American people and employed censorship in news reports.
As Filipino civilians supported the struggle for freedom, the Americans effected a program of reconcentration camps. They did it again in Vietnam, calling the scheme “strategic hamletting.”
The Americans were cruel during the war in the Philippines, “burning the town and killing everyone in sight, and taking no prisoners.” It was worse in Vietnam: Remember Agent Orange, napalm, the My Lai massacre. There must be memorials to ensure that nothing of the sort ever happens again.
The Vietnam War is described by Americans as their longest war. But the Filipino-American War arguably lasted longer.
The Minnesota plaque summarized the Filipino-American War: “They served the cause of humanity. They battled to free the oppressed people of the Philippine Islands, who suffered under the despotic rule of Spain.”
This is a big lie. They did not come to help the oppressed; they came to conquer.
In 1998 a group of Filipinos presented accurate information about the Filipino-American War at the Minnesota capitol. Filipinos are truly sensitive of history, as all men and women should be.
On the Olympia
In Philadelphia is moored the USS Olympia, the flagship of George Dewey during the Battle of Manila on May 1, 1898, in which the US Navy destroyed the Spanish fleet at anchor.
Footprints in bronze on the ship’s deck show where Dewey stood when he said, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”
But there is no trace of the place where Dewey stood when he promised Gen. Jose Alejandrino that the United States had no interest in becoming a colonial power.
Dewey hosted Aguinaldo aboard the Olympia and assured him of US recognition of Philippine independence.
Once again, there is neither trace nor mention of this historic meeting on the ship. But there are bayonets, clothing and spears displayed and labelled “Philippine Insurrection II.”
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines really has a lot of work to do to bring out the truth, in and out of the Philippines.
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