The Philippine-American War was fought between the First Philippine Republic and the United States from 1899 to 1901. Many view it as an insurrection as the continuation of the Philippines’ struggle for independence – first against the Spanish rule and then against the Americans.
The Philippine-American started when the United States assumed sovereignty of the Philippines after Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War. After over three years, the Filipino insurrection was eventually quashed by the Americans. The bloody conflict resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties – with those casualties being greater among Filipinos than among Americans – the dissolution of the short-lived First Philippine Republic and the beginning of the American occupation of the Philippines. Despite that, sporadic insurrections continued in the following years.
Like in any historical event, some figures played significant roles during the Philippine-American war. They include, of course, the main generals.
General Emilio Aguinaldo (1869 – 1964) was a Filipino revolutionary, military leader, and statesman who fought against Spain and, later, against the United States, for Philippine independence.
He is the first President of the Philippines – technically, he was President of the short-lived First Philippine Republic. Before the minimum age requirement of 40 years old was implemented, Aguinaldo was the youngest-ever Filipino president at 29 years old.
Aguinaldo spearheaded a revolution against the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines. He cooperated with the United States during the Spanish-American War, having seen the possibility that the Philippines might achieve its independence. However, the Americans had other ideas in mind, hoping that Aguinaldo might lend his troops to their conflict against Spain.
When it became clear to Aguinaldo that the Americans had no intention of liberating the islands, he and his troops remained apart from the US forces. On January 23, 1899, following the meetings of a constitutional convention, Aguinaldo was sworn in as President of the First Philippine Republic. Unsurprisingly, the US did not recognize Aguinaldo’s authority. On February 4, 1899 (only two days before the ratification of the Treaty of Paris where Spain would relinquish all of its territories to the US), Aguinaldo declared war on the US, sparking the Philippine-American War.
Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans on March 23, 1901. Following his capture, he agreed to swear allegiance to the US and left public life. The Americans officially declared the end of the war on July 2, 1902.
Aguinaldo’s dream of Philippine independence came true when it was granted on July 4, 1946.
Gregorio del Pilar
General Gregorio del Pilar (1875 – 1899) was a prominent figure in the Philippine Revolutionary Army – the official armed forces of the First Philippine Republic – during the Philippine-American War. He was also the nephew of Marcelo H. del Pilar, a noted writer, lawyer, and propagandist.
He may be one of the youngest generals in the army but his daring attacks in several encounters got him promoted in the rank. Because of his youth, del Pilar earned the moniker “Boy General.”
At the start of the revolution, he and his troops successfully raided the Spanish barracks in the town of Paombong, in the province of Bulacan, in 1897. He commanded the victory of the first phase of the Battle of Quingua in present-day Plaridel, Bulacan, in 1899 during the Philippine-American War. But it was also during the war where del Pilar met his tragic fate – his last action in the Battle of Tirad Pass, where he was killed. He was only 24 years old.
General Antonio Luna (1866 – 1899) was a Filipino soldier, scientist, and journalist who fought in the Philippine-American War. He was the brother of world-renowned painter Juan Luna (famous for his Spoliarium painting) and politician Joaquin Luna.
Regarded as one of the fiercest generals of his time, Luna succeeded Artemio Ricarte as commander of the Philippine Revolutionary Army. He sought to apply his knowledge of military science to the fledgling army. Luna organized a group of professional guerilla soldiers, later called “Luna Sharpshooters.”
His three-tier defense, known as the “Luna Defense Line,” gave the American troops a hard campaign in the provinces north of Manila. Luna’s incredible commitment to discipline in the army and serving the Republic earned him the people’s admiration. But he also gained notoriety for his fiery temper, which caused some people to detest him. Perceived as a threat by President Aguinaldo, Luna was assassinated in Cabanatuan City, in the province of Nueva Ecija, by Aguinaldo’s orders.
Despite his reputation as a hot-headed general, Luna’s valiant efforts to free the Philippines from American rule and his pharmaceutical and environmental science findings also left a significant mark on the country.
General Miguel Malvar (1865 – 1911) was a Filipino soldier who fought in the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. Malvar unofficially served as President of the First Philippine Republic, preceding Macario Sakay, the self-appointed president of the Tagalog Republic that was a revolutionary government.
Like Sakay, Malvar was one of the original Katipuneros. When the revolution against Spain broke out in 1896, Malvar rose from leading a 70-men army to becoming military commander in Batangas, later coordinating offensives with General Aguinaldo and Paciano Rizal (brother of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal). Malvar fought alongside General Edilberto Evangelista and later assumed Evangelista’s position as general when the latter was killed in a battle.
Malvar continued to rise in the ranks during the Philippine-American War. He and his forces continued to participate in guerilla warfare against the US even after Aguinaldo’s capture. He assumed the unofficial position as President that began on April 1, 1902. But his tenure proved to be brief, as Malvar surrendered himself to the American forces 15 days later.
General Macario Sakay (1878 – 1907) was a Filipino soldier and merchant who fought in the Philippine Revolution and subsequently the Philippine-American War. After the Americans declared the end of the war in 1902, Sakay continued his resistance efforts by spearheading guerilla raids. Around the same time, he established the Tagalog Republic and appointed himself as its president.
During the Philippine-American War, Sakay was arrested for his seditious activities. But he escaped and continued his resistance against the Americans after General Aguinaldo’s capture in 1901. That same year, he founded the Nacionalista Party (unrelated to the present-day political party of the same name). In 1902, Sakay declared war on the US and established the Tagalog Republic with himself as President. He planned to kidnap President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter to trade her to the Americans in exchange for Philippine independence. However, the attempt didn’t push through.
Sakay surrendered on July 20, 1906. But he was charged with bandolerismo (banditry) under the Brigandage Act. Sakay was convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged on September 13, 1907.
Elwell Stephen Otis
Elwell Stephen Otis (1838 – 1909) was an American general who fought in many wars, including the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War.
In 1898, he was appointed major general and sent to the Philippines with other reinforcements for General Wesley Merritt.
Otis took command of the Eighth Army Corps, replacing Merritt who had assumed the position of a military governor of the Philippines. Otis continued in this position during the Philippine-American War. In the Battle of Manila in 1899, he led the US Army and during the first phase of the battle before the conflict turned into guerilla warfare.
Otis was unpopular in the Philippines because of his authoritarian and “pompous” manner. His own subordinates accused him of committing abuses during the early phase of the war. However, he proved to be a skilled and able administrator. In 1900, Otis was relieved of command and replaced with Arthur MacArthur Jr., the father of Douglas MacArthur.
Wesley Merritt (1836 – 1910) was a Union cavalry officer and the first military governor of the Philippines. He served in the cavalry of the US Army during numerous wars, including the Civil War, American Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and the Philippine-American War.
Late in his career, Merritt served in the Spanish-American War as commanding general of the first Philippine expedition. He assumed the command of the newly-established Eighth Army Corps in 1898 and departed with his troops for the Philippines with plans to attack and capture Manila.
When the Spaniards surrendered in the Battle of Manila, thus ending the Spanish-American War, Merritt was named the first military governor of the Philippines. At the end of the battle, the American forces were in control in the walled city of Intramuros in Manila, surrounded by Filipino revolutionary forces, setting the conditions for the Battle of Manila in 1899 and the beginning of the Philippine-American War.
Merritt was replaced by Major General Otis as commander of the Eighth Army Corps to advise the US delegation in the peace negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris.
John J. Pershing
John J. Pershing (1860 – 1948) was a US Army general, most famously known as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commander on the Western Front during the First World War. He also fought in many wars and battles, including the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War.
At the start of the Philippine-American War, Pershing reported to Manila and was subsequently dispatched to the Department of Mindanao and Jolo to lead efforts to suppress the Filipino insurrection. In November 1900, Pershing was appointed as the Department’s adjutant general and served in this position until March 1901. In the following June, he was honorably discharged from the United States Volunteers and returned to the rank of captain in the Regular Army, to which he had been promoted earlier. He served in the 1st Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines and was later assigned to the 15th Cavalry Regiment as an intelligence officer and took part in actions against the Muslim Moros. In June 1901, he was appointed as Commander Vicars in the Lanao region.
Pershing was cited for bravery for actions on the Cagayan River while attempting to destroy a local stronghold at Macajambo and his valiant efforts on the Lanao Lake.