US Senator speaks up against RP annexation

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

In February 1898 the US battleship Maine, in Havana Harbor, Cuba, was completely destroyed by a mysterious explosion that detonated ammunition magazines, killing more than 200 crew members. The incident would eventually lead to the Spanish-American War, a conflict at times described in history books as “the splendid little war.” It lasted for only four months at small cost in terms of American blood and treasure.

In the meantime, on June 12, 1898, the first Republic in Asia was proclaimed in Kawit, Cavite, with General Emilio Aguinaldo as president. Commodore George Dewey, the victor in the Battle of Manila Bay, was invited to the ceremonies but declined, citing as reason that the day was “mail day” for the fleet, an indication of what lay ahead for the budding nation. Earlier, in a meeting with Dewey, Aguinaldo was made to believe that the United States was going to help in the fight against Spain, the common enemy. He recalled Dewey saying that the United States was a great and rich nation and was not interested in acquiring colonies. Later, Dewey would deny this conversation. But as he spoke, an expeditionary force under General Wesley Merritt was on its way to the Philippines for precisely that objective.

As far as the revolution was concerned, key towns in Luzon and outlying islands were already in rebel hands, except for Manila the capital, still held by Spanish forces, but completely surrounded. In his book, The Imperial Cruise, bestselling author James Bradley wrote: “The half-starved Spanish (reduced to eating horsemeat and rats) held out behind Manila’s walls. Aguinaldo’s troops held the rest of the country. But one crucial element had become clear: The Spanish were white and the Filipinos were not. The Americans approached the Spanish with a deal: US forces would pretend to attack Manila, the Spanish would pretend to defend and, after a little noise, the Spanish would surrender the capital. The Americans would then claim a glorious victory, the Spanish, a manly defeat without casualties. . .all of this kept secret from the Filipinos. On Aug. 13, the Americans and Spanish fought the sham Battle of Manila and the US army waltzed into Manila with little wear and tear.” It was only a matter of time before American and Filipino soldiers would be engaged in a shooting war that erupted on Feb. 4, 1899.

In December 1898, Spanish and American negotiators signed the Treaty of Paris, ending Spain’s three centuries of domination over the Philippines. The treaty guaranteed Cuban independence from Spain and ceded ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States. At first, Spain balked at surrendering the Philippines, their largest remaining overseas colony. The Americans came up with a compromise. They would pay Spain $20 million for the Philippines. What an amazing arrangement. Normally after a conflict, as the saying goes, “To the victor belong the spoils,” and yet the victor shelled out $20 million for something it had won on the battlefield. Perhaps that was an indication of how badly the United States wanted the Philippines for itself.

While the treaty was signed in December, it would require ratification by the US Senate. After US victories in Cuba and Manila Bay, the mood of the nation was for getting their share of colonies as European powers started to gobble up parts of China. But there were some powerful voices that opposed America’s quest for empire.

In January 1899, a distinguished gentleman rose to the floor of the Senate to open debate on the Treaty of Paris. A Republican, 72-year-old George Frisbie Hoar, the senior senator from Massachusetts, laid out the case against annexation of the Philippines. He argued: “The paramount issue was the threat posed to the American Constitution and ideals. The US was founded on the ideals of the ‘consent of the governed’ and without consent of the Filipinos, the United States could never justify or constitutionally purchase the islands and rule its people.”

Hoar praised the Filipinos as “a people of great ability and integrity.” He found Emilio Aguinaldo and his cohorts worthy of comparison with America’s founding fathers. He proceeded to enumerate their qualifications for nationhood, saying “they had a written constitution, a settled territory, an organized army, a congress, courts, schools, universities, churches, the Christian religion, newspapers, books, statesmen who can debate of questions of international law like Mabini, and organize governments like Aguinaldo, poets like Jose Rizal, and patriots who can die for liberty like Jose Rizal” (Twelve Against Empire, by Robert Beisner, winner of the Alan Nevins History Prize).

After a lengthy debate when the votes were counted on Feb. 6, 1899, the Senate had approved the treaty by just one vote more than the two-thirds margin required for passage. In the end, Hoar concluded: “We changed the Monroe Doctrine from a doctrine of eternal righteousness and justice, resting on the consent of the governed, to a doctrine of brutal selfishness, looking only to our own advantage. We crushed the only republic in Asia. We made war on Christian people in the east. We converted a war of glory, to a war of shame. We vulgarized the American flag. We inflicted torture on unarmed men to extort confession. We devastated provinces. We baffled the aspirations of a people for liberty.”

Had the US Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Paris, the course of history of our nation would likely have changed drastically. Senator Hoar proudly described his defense of Philippine freedom as one of the major contributions of his life.

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