What is the Reason behind the Philippine-American War?

The Philippine-American War, also called the Filipino-American, was an armed conflict between the United States and Filipino revolutionaries from February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902. Led by President Emilio, the insurrection was deemed as the continuation of the Filipinos’ decades-long struggle and fight for their independence from foreign colonizers.

On the other hand, the war served as a hindrance for the United States to fulfill its cultural belief of “manifest destiny” and spread its influence across the Pacific Ocean. But, how did the war started? What ignited the revolution? Read below and discover the reason behind the Philippine-American War.

For more than 300 years, Spain colonized the Philippines and controlled the country. However, it was only in 1896 when the Filipinos saw the Spanish administration’s weakness and revolted against the Spaniards during the Tagalog War or the Philippine Revolution. Yet, the Filipinos had struggled to end the Spanish rule and failed to evict the colonizers from the islands.

In 1898, the United States interceded and declared war against Spain in April 1898, and defeating them in Cuba and the Philippines. Under the Treaty of Paris signed by Spain and the United States on December 10, 1898, the formed renowned its sovereignty claim to Guam, Puerto, Cuba, and the Philippines.


During the war, U.S. President McKinley already deemed that the Philippines would do better as an American protectorate or colony. They weren’t sold enough that Filipinos were capable of governing themselves, not knowing that establishing a government would be far more challenging than the way they’ve captured the country.

Defeating Spain in a surprisingly quick manner, the United States never had planned enough to handle the Philippines, an archipelago with over 7,100 islands and about 8 million people. More importantly, they weren’t prepared for the Filipinos backlash, given that they had long been yearning to be free from foreign rule.

Filipinos didn’t recognize the Treaty of Paris and rejected the U.S. sovereignty over the Philippines. After all the bloody efforts they exerted against Spain, they didn’t accept the idea of becoming under the control of another ruler. The conflict was inevitable, and it ignited Philippine-American War.

The Battle of Manila, the first and most extensive battle, occurred on February 4 to 5, 1899. It involved 19,000 U.S. soldiers and 15,000 Filipino militiamen. The former was led by Army General Elwell Stephen Otis, while the latter was under the command of Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo.

The conflict began after American troops, who were only ordered to survey the camp, were said to have fired shots and killed two Filipino insurgents on the evening of February 4. Aguinaldo initially offered a ceasefire, yet Otis rejected it, citing that the event must come to a grim end since the fighting already started. A full-scale war began the following morning when General Arthur MacArthur finally ordered the attack on the Filipino troops. The war ended with victory going to the side of American on late February 5.


The battle ensued for another two phases. The first was from February to November 1899 in a conventional battlefield war of the Filipino against the United States. However, the Philippines troops were vastly outnumbered and lost to the heavily-trained and powerful American soldiers. In November 1899, the Filipino government escaped northward and opted for a guerilla warfare strategy. However, Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901. Most armed Filipino ceased spring of 1902.

Throughout the war, the American soldiers were of a better advantage than the Filipinos, as they had better equipment and a constant supply of materials and troops. It has been the opposite for the Filipino forces, who were primarily armed with bows and arrows, spears, bolo knives, and other primitive weaponry, and had no match against the American soldiers.

Though relatively short than the other wars, about 20,000 to 30,000 and 4,200 to 6,000 American soldiers were estimated to have died in the combat. Meanwhile, around 200,000 to 300,000 civilians died due to famine, illness, or were killed during the skirmishes.

On July 4, 1902, President proclaimed the end of the Philippine-American War and granted a complete pardon and amnesty to all Filipino insurgency combatants, civilian participants, and their leaders.