May 19, 1898: Emilio Aguinaldo Returns
In the run up to the Spanish-American War, several American Consuls – in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila – sought Emilio Aguinaldo’s support. None of them spoke Tagalog, Aguinaldo’s own language, and Aguinaldo himself spoke poor Spanish. A British businessman who spoke Tagalog, Howard W. Bray, agreed to act as interpreter. Aguinaldo and Bray maintained later that the Philippines had been promised independence in return for helping the U.S. defeat the Spanish.
In Hong Kong, Aguinaldo was told by U.S. consul Rounsenville Wildman that Dewey wanted him to return to the Philippines to resume the Filipino resistance.
Arriving in Manila with thirteen of his staff on May 19 aboard the American revenue cutter McCulloch, Aguinaldo reassumed command of Filipino rebel forces. Although he and Dewey spoke, no one knows the substance of the discussions� Dewey only spoke Spanish, Aguinaldo spoke it poorly and there was no intermediary.
[Years later, Aguinaldo recalled a meeting with Dewey: “I asked whether it was true that he had sent all the telegrams to the Consul at Singapore, Mr. Pratt, which that gentleman had told me he received in regard to myself. The Admiral replied in the affirmative, adding that the United States had come to the Philippines to protect the natives and free them from the yoke of Spain. He said, moreover, that America is exceedingly well off as regards territory, revenue, and resources and therefore needs no colonies, assuring me finally that there was no occasion for me to entertain any doubts whatever about the recognition of the Independence of the Philippines by the United States.”]
[Aguinaldo, in his book, “A Second Look At America,” admitted he naively believed that Dewey “acted in good faith” on behalf of the Filipinos.]
Five days after his arrival, on May 24, Aguinaldo temporarily established a dictatorial government, but plans were afoot to proclaim the independence of the country. A democratic government would then be set up.
In late May, Dewey was ordered by the U.S. Department of the Navy to distance himself from Aguinaldo lest he make untoward commitments to the Philippine forces.
The official directive was not necessary; Dewey had already made up his mind beforehand: “From my observation of Aguinaldo and his advisers I decided that it would be unwise to co-operate with him or his adherents in an official manner… In short, my policy was to avoid any entangling alliance with the insurgents, while I appreciated that, pending the arrival of our troops, they might be of service.” [RIGHT, Aguinaldo’s headquarters inside the Cavite navy yard, May 1898].
Dewey referred to the Filipinos as “the Indians” and promised Washington, D.C. that he would “enter the city [Manila] and keep the Indians out.”
By early June, with no arms supplied by Dewey, Aguinaldo’s forces had overwhelmed Spanish garrisons in Cavite and around Manila, surrounded the capital with 14 miles of trenches, captured the Manila waterworks and shut off access or escape by the Pasig River. Links were established with other movements throughout the country.
With the exception of Muslim areas on Mindanao and nearby islands, the Filipinos had taken effective control of the rest of the Philippines.
Aguinaldo’s 12,000 troops kept the Spanish soldiers bottled up inside Manila until American troop reinforcements could arrive.
Aguinaldo was concerned, however, that the Americans would not commit to paper a statement of support for Philippine independence.
[John Foreman, American historian of the early Philippine-American War period stated that, “Aguinaldo and his inexperienced followers were so completely carried away by the humanitarian avowels of the greatest republic the world had seen that they willingly consented to cooperate with the Americans on mere verbal promises, instead of a written agreement which could be held binding on the U.S. Government.”]
Native Filipinos in the Spanish Guardia Civil, 1898.
While awaiting the arrival of ground troops, Dewey welcomed aboard his flagship USS Olympia members of the media who clamored for interviews. Numerous vessels of other foreign nations, most conspicuously those of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan, arrived almost daily in Manila Bay. These came under the pretext of guarding the safety of their own citizens in Manila, but their crews kept a watchful eye on the methods and activities of the American Naval commander.
The German fleet of five ships, commanded by Vice Admiral Otto von Diederichs (RIGHT, in 1898) and ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively�cutting in front of US ships, refusing to salute the US flag (according to customs of naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish. Germany was eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the Philippines might afford. Dewey called the bluff of the German vice admiral, threatening a fight if his aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down.
In recognition of George Dewey’s leadership during the Battle of Manila Bay, a special medal known as the Dewey Medal was presented to the officers and sailors under Commodore Dewey’s command. Dewey was later honored with promotion to the special rank of Admiral of the Navy; a rank that no one has held before or since in the US Navy.
Years later in U.S. Senate hearings, Admiral Dewey testified, “I never treated him (Aguinaldo) as an ally, except to assist me in my operations against the Spaniards.”
Dewey was born on Dec. 26, 1837 in Montpelier, Vermont. He graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland on June 18, 1858. During the American Civil War he served with Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of New Orleans and as part of the Atlantic blockade.
He was commissioned as a Commodore on Feb. 28, 1896.
On Nov. 30, 1897 he was named commander of the Asiatic Squadron, thanks to the help of strong political allies, including Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.
He held the rank of Admiral of the Navy until his death in Washington, DC, on Jan. 16, 1917.
General Emilio Aguinaldo
Aguinaldo was the first and youngest President of the Philippines. He was born on March 22, 1869 in Cavite El Viejo (now Kawit), Cavite province. He was slender and stood at five feet and three inches. He studied at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He quit his studies at age 17 when his father died so that he could take care of the family farm and engage in business.
He joined freemasonry and was made a master mason on Jan. 1, 1895 at Pilar Lodge No. 203 (now Pilar Lodge No. 15) at Imus, Cavite and was founder of Magdalo Lodge No. 3.
On March 14, 1896, he joined the Katipunan and for his name in the secret revolutionary society, he chose Magdalo, after the patron saint of Cavite El Viejo, Mary Magdalene. He was initiated in the house of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio on Cervantes St. (now Rizal Ave.), Manila.
Aguinaldo married his first wife, Hilaria del Rosario of Imus, Cavite in 1896. From that marriage five children (Miguel, Carmen, Emilio, Jr., Maria and Cristina) were born.
When the revolution against Spain broke out on Aug. 30, 1896, he was the capitan municipal (mayor) of Cavite el Viejo.
Aguinaldo defeated the best of the Spanish generals: Ernesto de Aguirre in the Battle of Imus, Sept. 3, 1896; Ramon Blanco in the Battle of Binakayan, Nov. 9-11, 1896; and Antonio Zaballa in the Battle of Anabu, February 1897).
He assumed total control of the Filipino revolutionary forces after executing Andres Bonifacio on May 10, 1897.
He was captured by the Americans led by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston on March 23, 1901 in remote Palanan, Isabela Province. On April 1, 1901, he pledged allegiance to the United States. (His son, Emilio Jr., graduated from West Point in 1927, in the same class as Gen. Funston’s son.)
On March 6, 1921, his first wife, Hilaria, died.
On July 14, 1930, at age 61, Aguinaldo married Maria Agoncillo, 49-year-old niece of Felipe Agoncillo, the pioneer Filipino diplomat.
On Feb. 6, 1964, less than a year after the death of his second wife, Aguinaldo died of coronary thrombosis, at the age of 95, at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City.
His remains are buried at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite Province.