Philippines from 1900-1915
US Notions of Manifest Destiny and Benevolent Assimilation

During the early 1900’s the Philippines was entrenched in the Philippine-American War.  This is discussed in much more depth in a separate blog post, so I shall talk mostly about the sentiment that the United States had and their rational for occupying the Philippines.

Manifest Destiny is the idea that the United States was “destined” to spread across the North American continent from the edge of the Atlantic to and through the Pacific Ocean. The term, coined in 1839, was the motivation for the westward expansion of America through the Great Plains and into what is now California. As America continued to grow (in power as well as geographically), it’s definitions of Manifest Destiny were altered. The United States continued to expand its borders, but with the idea now of bringing democracy, peace and civilization to all parts of the world.

The Philippines was a likely candidate for a number of reasons, the largest being that the archipelago is situated in such a way in relation to other powerful nations (such as Japan and China) that would allow commerce between these countries and, perhaps more importantly, in the case of conflict with these powerful nations, a strategic warfare position.

The Philippines joins Cuba and Hawaii in Independence Day celebrations

These motives were of course candy-coated under the veil of being the bringer of civilization and peace to the uncivilized natives of the Philippines. The notion of “Benevolent Assimilation” of 1898 was issued by the United States in regards to the Philippines. In the original statement, the United States clearly were attempting to overtake the Philippines in terms of political control. The statement was sent to General Otis, the U.S. military commander in the Philippines, which was then censored by Otis and sent to Aguinaldo. The censored version removed any mentions of rule by the United States.

“Our little brown brothers” would need “fifty or one hundred years” of close supervision “to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.” “Filipinos are moved by similar considerations to those which move other men.” - William Howard Taft to President McKinley

The term “little brown brother” was also created in order to make the United States seem less of a threat to the Philippine nation. The term, coined by William Howard Taft, asserted that it was America’s duty to closely watch and monitor the Philippines in order that it may become a civilized and upright nation. Although not intended to be derogatory, the racism in his words is apparent. Taft, in using this statement, effectively saw the Filipino population as children who are unable to accomplish anything themselves and must rely on the United States in order to become “civilized” by Western standards.

Baptizing a “Little Brown Brother”

With these “benign” motives put forth by the United States, it proceeded to take control over the Philippines and thus, pave the way for the Philippine-American War.

Posted by: Edward Patrick Alva

Epidemics in the 1900s

Before the 20th century hit, on September 29, 1898, the Americans established a military Board of Health with Dr. Frank S. Bourns as president. The purpose of this Board of Health was to care for injured American troops but as the hostilities between Filipinos and Americans waned in 1901, a civilian Board of Health was now deemed appropriate with Dr. Louis Mervin Maus as the first health commissioner.

In the 1900s, the Filipinos health status was in shambles. The country reeled from epidemics of cholera, plague, and smallpox. Other serious infectious diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and malaria were also so common but since they’ve been around for so long, they were not considered epidemics anymore.

The Philippines had a high death rate of 28 per 1,000 persons during non-epidemic years (compared to present death rate of only 7 per 1,000). During epidemics, the death rates rose to as high as 60 per 1,000. Infant mortality rate were also very high.

The Cholera Epidemic of 1902-1905

This nightmare started on March 20, 1902 when two cases resembling cholera were admitted at San Juan de Dios Hospital for treatment. Hospital physicians immediately notified the Board of Health. Within an hour, a Health Commissioner arrived and confirmed the diagnosis.

Just as cholera had done in other countries, the Philippines proved to be a fertile ground. In the first three days, thirty-seven cases were confirmed. In just ten days, the cases rocketed to one hundred & two with an astounding death rate of ninety percent.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, the Board of Health carried out Government Order 66, which called for the burning of infected nipa huts. So, on March 27, 1902, the entire Farola district in Tondo was burned down, leaving its natives confused and homeless.

During these epidemic years, people were not educated on how to prevent cholera from spreading. The contaminated water supply, rampant defecation in the rivers, and lack of hospitals contributed to the rapid spread of the disease.

As the epidemic raged on, the American health commissioners were helpless against the disease. The first health commissioner Lieut. Col. L.M. Maus could not handle the strain and suffered a mental breakdown. His replacement Dr. Frank S. Bourns stayed on for only a month and resigned to pursue his own business interests.

All in all, 200,222 lives including 66,000 children were lost. Three percent of the population was decimated in the worst epidemic in Philippine health history. Few remember this horrible tragedy.

During the cholera epidemic of 1902-1905, the Americans advocated cremation of bodies, outlawing of funerals, and land quarantine. All these foreign actions conflicted with Filipino customs of funeral visits and visiting of the sick. The result was the worst epidemic in Philippine history with around 202,000 Filipinos dead! Few remember and take heed of this horrible tragedy.

The cholera tragedy partly led to the Filipinization movement and turn-over of these health institutions leadership to the Filipinos from 1914 to 1921. By the 1930s, deaths from cholera had waned but even as the American left, they expressed their disappointment in not being able to rid the country of two diseases: tuberculosis and malaria. As excellent as their scientific methods were, some Americans ruled with an iron hand and neglected the cultural sensitivities of the Filipinos.

From the 1950s onwards, there has been a steady improvement in patient care, medical education, and public health comparable to other developing countries. By the end of the new millennium, the Philippines ranked 73rd among 163 nations in terms of health status.

-Catrina San Juan

The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair was an extremely large event that showcased the scientific, artistic and cultural advancements being made throughout the world at the time.  Lasting from April 30 to December 1, 1904, 45 countries came from all parts of the globe to take part; many spectacles were to be seen, from new technology to vast, varying architecture of various cultures to even the introduction of new foods at the time such as cotton candy and iced tea.  The fair had a significant influence in popular culture as well; the song Meet me in St. Louis, Louis by Billy Murray as well as the film titled Meet me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland both reference the Fair of 1904.

A scene from Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland singing Meet Me in St. Louis Louise

While the splendor and spectacle of the Fair certainly cast it in a positive light, there were very dark overtones in relation to the Filipino people.  The 1904 World’s Fair came about at a time in US history when the United States was rapidly expanding their territories outside the US mainland.  Wanting to show its might as a nation and maybe even their advantage as a primarily white race, the United States made a huge presence in the Fair in part by showcasing what many now call a “human zoo” of the dark, indigenous people of their recent territorial acquisitions; the Philippines was one of these acquisitions.

Many Filipinos, particularly of the native tribes, were coerced into traveling to America; over 1000 Filipinos from all over the Islands left their homes and families to be put on display for the Fair for the “cultured nations” to ogle.  The United States used the Fair as an opportunity to showcase their ability to supposedly bring civilization into an uncivilized nation.  The Filipinos were shown in various parts of “cultural evolution” from the “civilized” city-goer from Manila to the “exotic” Igorot tribesman.  The Igorots in particular were one of the main draws of the Fair.  Coming from the less developed provinces of the Philippines, they were portrayed as extremely socially backward and primitive, living half-naked in huts and eating dog meat.  The Igorots were forced to dance and sing their native rituals daily in front of an audience, reducing their once-sacred customs into mere stage shows.  Images were put on display showing the deformed feet of the tree-climbing Igorots, showing the apparent lower stage of evolution in regards to other races.  Perhaps this was the reason behind the main draw of the Igorot village: the fact that it causes the viewer to feel as if they are superior.

A picture showing the deformed, “unevolved” feet of the Igorot

The coming-together of many nations in a cultural exposition is, in principle, an extremely benevolent endeavor.  However, by presenting Filipinos as archaic and backward, the United States was able to push an ulterior motive that ultimately tarnished the image of the Filipino.

Posted by: Edward Patrick Alva

Act No. 1870: Establishment of the University of the Philippines

University Seal.On June 18, 1908, by the authority of the United States, the Philippine Legislature approved Act No. 1870. This Act, which was also known as the ”University Act,” provided for the founding and organization of the University of the Philippines. This Act specified the function of the University, which is to provide advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences, and arts, and to give professional and technical training. The University began with the establishment of the Philippine Medical School (later incorporated into the University as the College of Medicine and Surgery) in 1905, which started operating in 1907, a year ahead of the rest of the UP System. Together with the College of Fine Arts and the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Medicine occupied buildings distributed along the Ermita district and the Quiapo district in Manila, the School of Agriculture was in Los Baños. The Act also provides for the appropriation of one hundred thousand pesos for the establishment of the colleges enumerated herein. general hospital, which was part of the university.

The University currently provides the largest number of degree programs in the country.The University is considered as the premier institution of higher learning in the Philippines.Several (7) Philippine Presidents have attended courses in the University either as undergraduates or as postgraduate students, while 12 chief justices of the Supreme Court, 36 out of the 57 National Artists and 30 out of the 31 National Scientists are affiliated with the University.

-Catrina San Juan

Aglipayanism and the Philippine Independent Church

Philippine Independent Church seal

The Philippine Independent Church, also known as Iglesia Filipina Independiente, was formed in the beginning of the twentieth century as part of the nationalist struggle against Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. It traces its origin from the struggle of the Filipino clergy against racial discrimination and friar domination within the Roman Church in the 19th century. The presence of the Spanish friars in the parishes eventually led to the formation of this Filipino National Church. The Philippine Independent Church was a religious body that separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1902 and rejected the spiritual authority of the pope.

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente was born during a period when institutional and missionary churches were cooperating with the colonial government & patriotic Filipinos continue to sustain the struggle for national democracy in the backdrop of US colonial set up.

A public protest led by the Union Obrera Democratica , which was the first labor confederation in the Philippines, publicly proclaimed the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in August 3, 1902. Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr., president of the labor confederation, nominated Father Gregorio Aglipay as Supreme Bishop or Obispo Maximo.

Isabelo de los Reyes, author, labour leader, and senator, was imprisoned during the revolution for his criticism of Spanish clergy and government officials in the Philippines, and Gregorio Aglipay, a Philippine Roman Catholic priest who was excommunicated in 1899 for his activities on behalf of the revolution. Gregorio Aglipay

In 1902, with the Philippines now a territory of the United States, Isabelo de los Reyes was working towards the formation of a Filipino national church, and on August 3rd, he suggested that a Church independent of Rome with Aglipay as its Supreme Bishop be established. Aglipay, a devout Catholic at the time, initially did not accept. They attempted to get him to sign a document swearing his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Aglipay said he would sign it if the Church would continue to work towards appointing more Filipino priests. Father Foradada asked him why he wanted more Filipino priests so badly, as he felt they were inefficient and vicious; this statement offended Aglipay, with some reports saying he punched Foradada. At any rate, he severed his ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and accepted de los Reyes’ offer.

On January 18, 1903, Aglipay was appointed Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church by the bishops of Manila, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Cagayan, Pangasinan, and Abra.

Today, the Philippine Independent Church is affiliated with the Old Catholics and the Anglican Communion. Aglipayans number around 3 million, mostly in the Ilocos Region. They constitute about 1% of the total population of the Philippines, while 83% of the population are members of the Catholic Church.

-Catrina San Juan

The Balagtasan: Debate in Poetic Verse

Balagtasan is a form of debate using poetic verse.  The name of the literary form itself originates from Francisco Balagtas, a hugely influential Filipino poet from the late 1800’s.  While both the formation of the balagtasan and the man in which it is named after are slightly outside the scope of our archeological investigation, it is still very significant because many of the events of the early 1900’s helped to shape the form into what it is today.

Francisco Baltazar (popularly known as Francisco Balagtas) was born on April 2, 1788 in Bigaa, Bulacan.  He learned how to write poetry from another famous Filipino poet, José de la Cruz.  Because of him, Balagtas was constantly pushed to develop and progress his writing.  Considered the Filipino version of William Shakespeare, most of his early works were, like Shakespeare, comedies.  Also like Shakespeare, his work gradually matured over time; Balagtas’ masterpiece entitled Florante at Laura is an epic written when he was imprisoned during the 19th century.

This high regard given to Balagtas is the reason why the poetic form, balagtasan, is given its name.  As stated before, the name of the form itself was coined outside the range of our research; however the turmoil happening from the early 1900’s were influential in creating the literary form as it is today.  Balagtasan came about, at least politically, as the manifestation of Filipino sentiment in that a sense of self and identity was lost due to American rule.  It strives to declare independence from America by highlighting Filipino culture such as their old customs and traditions.

Regarding the actual performance, Balagtasan consists of three speakers: a narrator, a male, and a woman.  The three interact with each other in the form of a “debate.”  Each speaker takes turns reciting lines in poetic rhyme in which the next speaker will respond to.  The topics are primarily political in nature, dealing mostly with Filipino nationalism and the renouncement of American ways.  Comedy can be injected into the performance as well; witty retorts are commonplace in balagtasan.

This style of performance can be liked to modern day poetry slams and MC battles.  MCs take turns freestyling on the spot; whoever has the best rhymes wins.  One can even say MTV’s “Yo’ Momma” is a low-brow equivalent as well.  The parallel between balagtasan and these modern forms can clearly be seen.  It is interesting to ponder whether they evolved independent of one another, or if balagtasan actually played a part in shaping the modern MC battle.

Posted by: Edward Patrick Alva

The First Wave of Filipino Migration to the United States

Since their migration to the United States, Filipinos have always played an integral role in contributing to America’s economy. While the earliest recorded Filipino migrants occurred in 1587, the first wave of immigrants began during the American colonial era. When the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HPSA) needed more agricultural labor workers, they sent recruiters to the Philippines to set up recruitment centers in Vigan, Illocos Sur and Cebu. There they hired plantation workers known as Sakadas who unsurprisingly, worked for cheap labor. In 1906, fifteen Sakadas were shipped to Hawaii. At first, these migrants who mostly spoke Tagalog were hesitant to go, out of fear and due to the long travel which they perceived to be dangerous. Upon their deployment and after their settlement, however, they encouraged other Filipinos to follow their migration. Through their labor, many were able to save money to send back home as a way to support their relatives and help improve their living conditions. Overall, the first wave of Filipino immigrants that stepped into Hawaii helps explain the high Filipino-American population that still exists there today.

Sakadas in Hawaii.

Not only did Filipinos set foot in Hawaii during the 1900s, but many also migrated to California. In 1903, the Pensionado Act allowed Filipino students to study in the United States as a way to “enhance and further” their education. While this appears to be an honorable act by the Americans, it was unfortunately not their true intentions. Instead of allowing students to migrate as a way to advance their education and enlighten their minds, they had other ulterior motives. These scholars known as pensionados were shipped off in order to help maintain colonial rule. Many pensionados were educated in America with degrees in government and administration so that they could learn the United States governmental system. This way they could return to the Philippines and teach the government “democratic” practices. More importantly, they were promised positions in various government sectors particularly in agriculture, business and education. However, this proved to be problematic since the general make-up, history and demographics of the Philippines does not parallel that of the United States. The governmental system that works for America may not work for the Philippines. Nonetheless, by 1912 there were over 200 Filipino students who had graduated from American collegiate institutions. Aside from pensionados, laborers also migrated to California under the contract system where they agreed to work as farmers. This first wave of migration eventually led to an excess labor supply.

Early Filipino pensionados.

Posted by: Arianne Magat

The Life and Times of Macario Sakay

Macario Sakay

For the average Filipino-American, when they hear the name, “Macario Sakay” nothing typically rings a bell. On the other hand, people such as Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal and Andrew Bonifacio are widely acclaimed. While it is important to recognize their heroic movements, Sakay is another noteworthy revolutionary leader who we can add to the list. Aside from Aguinaldo who was captured in 1901, Sakay also served as the Philippine general in the Philippine Revolution against Spain during the Philippine-American War. In doing so, he led several resistance forces fighting against American rule, calling for Philippine self-government and establishing the Tagalog Republic.

Sakay was an original member of the Katipunan movement which was a Philippine revolutionary society founded in 1892 by anti-Spanish Filipinos. During this movement, he continually fought for Philippine independence until he was captured. When the war ended in 1902 he was granted freedom and was released. He soon established, Republika ng Kataglugan (Tagalog Republic) in Luzon where he served as president. By “Katagalugan” he called for the freedom of all provinces, not just the Tagalog-speaking ones. In fact, Sakay detested calling the country “Philippines” due to its Spanish-colonial implications. As part of the Tagalog Republic, he created a manifesto stating the fundamental right for Philippine independence.

Sakay and his followersL to R: seated, Julian Montalan, Francisco Carreon, Macario Sakay, Leon Villafuerte; standing, Benito Natividad, Lucio de Vega

Moreover, he used his military tactics and seized ammunition and firearms, capturing United States military bases. Sakay and his men used guerilla tactics to attack U.S. enemies. His movement was made possible through contributions by lower class people who supplied food and money. As his movement grew, the American military formed searches to destroy Sakay’s missions. Since they were unable to suppress their expansion, the Philippine Constabulary (one of the four forces in the Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the U.S. Army forced relocation of villages in areas where Sakay gained access and assistance. In 1905, the American government presented Sakay with a letter promising that if he surrendered he and his men would not be punished for their seditious acts. On July 1906 they were invited to attend a dance where they were later captured, arrested and tried as “bandits.” On September 13, 1907 Sakay was hanged. Before his death he stated, “Filipinas, farewell! Long live the Republic and may our independence be born in the future!”

A company of the Philippine Constabulary.

Sakay’s direct involvement in the Tagalog Republic and his revolutionary movements makes him a noteworthy patriot of the Philippines. Today, his efforts in leading the Philippine independence movement is recognized through a life-size statue of him at Tondo, Manila where he was born. A famous biographical film honoring Sakay was already created by director Raymond Red.

Check out the “Sakay” (1993) movie trailer:

Posted by: Arianne Magat

Philippine Assembly

pa2On October 16, 1907, the Philippine Assembly convened at the Manila Grand Opera House. It was the first legislative body of the Philippines. The Philippine Assembly served as the lower house while the Philippine Commission served as the upper house. Two dominant political groups were present in the assembly – the Partido Nacionalista and the Partida Nacional Progresista. Other minority parties also attended. The Nacionalista party claimed the majority of the seats in the Assembly and promoted “immediate and complete independence” from the United States.

A temporary issue arose in the beginning setup of the legislature. The lower pa1assembly was composed of Filipinos while the upper commission was mostly composed of the Americans. This was resolved after the passing of the Jones Law, which established a bicameral legislature consisting of strictly Filipinos.

Later in 1916, this original set-up was abolished. The Philippine Commission was removed and instead the Philippine Legislature was put in charge of legislative affairs. The new system consisted of a Senate and House of Representatives.


William H. Taft


William H. Taft was born September 15, 1857 and died on March 8, 1930. He attended Yale College and then went on to Cincinnati Law School. After graduating, he held some local legal positions until he became a judge of Ohio’s superior court in 1887.  Afterwards, he served as solicitor general and judge of the U.S. Sixth Circuit of Court of Appeals. He dreamed of becoming a justice on the Supreme Court, but President William McKinley had other plans for Taft in mind.

In 1900, President McKinley appointed him chairman of the second Philippine Commission, which also became known as the “Taft Commission.” As the Spanish-American war had just ended, Taft was responsible for organizing  civil government in the Philippine Islands. Under this commission, they were able to issue 499 laws, establish a judicial system and organize a civil service.  Earlier Spanish rules were replaced by a new legal code.


From 1901 to 1903, Taft became very popular among the Filipinos and Americans while he served as the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines. In 1902, he negotiated with Pope Leo XIII in order to purchase the Philippine Islands owned by the Roman Catholic Church. He managed to persuade Congress to provide the $7 million to purchase these lands, which he then sold to the Filipinos on easy terms. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt finally offered him a position as justice. Reluctant once again, Taft declined the offer because he had come to enjoy his popularity amongst the Filipinos and he wanted to make sure they were truly capable of governing themselves.taft3

From 1904 to 1908, Taft served as Secretary of War. He was appointed by President Roosevelt who basically left him as Acting President while he was away. This set Taft up as a great presidential candidate in the election of 1908. Taft claimed victory as the 27th president of the United States and served a single term from 1909-1913. Taft then went on to become professor and even fulfilled his ambition to become chief justice of the United States.

William H. Taft strongly influenced the organization of the Philippines at the very beginning of it’s independence. His commission laid the foundation of the Philippine government as it is today.