BALIUAG, Bulacan Ã¢â‚¬â€œ It was a sunny Sunday morning and local residents were exiting the St. Augustine church where they attended Mass on the day of the first municipal elections in the Philippines 108 years ago, on May 7.
Jun Joson, president of the Samahang Pangkasaysayan ng Bulacan (Sampaka), told The STAR that American civil and military authorities in the Philippines supervised the first municipal elections as part of efforts to put the country on the path to democracy.
The move, Joson said, was a notable departure from the Spanish strategy of using the cross and the sword when they colonized the islands three centuries earlier.
As one of the leading democracies in the world, the United States used elections rather than appointments to select local leaders.
Joson said the Americans chose Baliuag town as the site of the first Philippine elections on May 7, 1899 for two reasons: Baliuag was secure and its structures remained intact, unlike neighboring Malolos which was used as the capital for the fledgling government of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, who resisted the American occupation.
"Bulacan was peaceful by then because Aguinaldo moved to San Isidro, Nueva Ecija. The elections were also held in Baliuag because Malolos had been burnt down," Joson said.
Records showed that in February 1899, American troops led by General Arthur MacArthur Ã¢â‚¬â€œ father of World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur Ã¢â‚¬â€œ conquered Guiguinto town on the southern border of what is now Malolos City.
Because of this, Aguinaldo decided to move out of Malolos, which fell into American hands the following month. AguinaldoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s retreating soldiers set fire to major structures in Malolos, including the Malolos Cathedral.
Joson said they have ample records on the Baliuag election, but he added that "we still donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know who the candidates were and who won in those elections" as further research is necessary to establish the complete facts of this historical event.
He said that the polls were conducted viva voce Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by a show of hands Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and without balloting: "People were gathered at the plaza of the St. Augustine church after they attended a mass, then they were selected based on the qualifications for voters set by the Americans."
There were four qualifications for voters then: First, you must be registered, 23 years old, a tax-payer and male Ã¢â‚¬â€œ as suffrage for women was only allowed by law in the 1930s.
This election set the tone for the first free elections for members of the first Philippine Assembly in 1902, but 80 winners of the these elections were unable to assume office as delegates for the first assembly until October 16, 1907, when the assembly was inaugurated.
According to Joson, the years in between the 1899 Baliuag elections and the inauguration of the Philippine assembly in 1907 were marked by political turncoatism, a precursor of todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s "balimbings (turncoats)."
He also said that, in 1901, Pascual Poblete founded the Partido Nacionalista, but this political party was outlawed by the American authorities for espousing total Philippine independence Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even from American rule.
In 1906, Felipe AgoncilloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Union Nacionalista merged with the Partido Independista of Isauro Gabaldon, Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña in preparation for the 1910 Philippine Assembly.
Joson noted that, in the years of transition from AguinaldoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s "Running Republic" to the American-initiated Philippine Assembly, former delegates to the 1898 Malolos Congress shifted loyalties.
"Even when Aguinaldo had just left Malolos, most of the delegates to the Malolos Congres shiftted to the lap of the Americans," Joson said in Filipino, noting that such lack of constancy among Filipino leaders was one of the reasons why the Philippines never had a strong republic.