With the Philippine islands in American hands after the Spanish War, the natives imagined their islands free of foreign rule as a gift from America. The liberator determined that the natives “were ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government” and decided to stay until such was the norm, no matter how many Filipinos lives it cost and years it took. It will be recalled that the war against Spain began with bellicose headlines from the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Obsessed with World Power and Democracy
“On July 4, 1901, William Howard Taft took the oath of office as the first Governor-General of the Philippines, and control of the islands passed from the military arm of the government. Not all the problems [of converting the islands] had been solved. Philippine society remained ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government, primarily because it is not one culture, but several.
An election in Zamboanga was decided by which Filipino shot the other candidates first.
The Filipinos in the northern islands were Tagalog Christians, those in the south were Moro’s (meaning “Mohammedan”) who had long resisted Tagalog encroachment. A tribal people, they were fiercely jealous of their semi-savage freedom. Wisely, the Spaniards had left them to their own devices; but the Americans wanted to clean up and educate everybody.
So the [American] army established a garrison at Balangiga, on Samar, in the south where Magellan had sighted the Philippines and where he was to die at the hands of natives.
On September 1, 1901, the natives from the surrounding hills of Balangiga fell on the American garrison, and in a devastating surprise littered the street with the heads, brains and intestines of the soldiery. This was the beginning of a religious war with the Moros, one that took longer to settle than the war against Aguinaldo’s insurrectos.
The fight became a struggle to win the minds and hearts of the villagers, who supplied the guerrilla bands and offered them bases and sanctuaries. What was called for [to control the Moros], [General John J.] Pershing decided, was to disarm the entire Moro Province, to confiscate or buy every rifle, pistol, campilan, bolo and krise on the islands.
It was not an original idea. General Leonard Wood, who left the Philippines in 1910 to become Chief of Staff advised Pershing: “You cannot disarm the people. It means they will bury their best arms and turn in a few poor ones, especially some who want to make a show of obedience.” Moros who surrendered their arms were victimized by those who had not . . . it is as hard to disarm a people as it is to make them give up a religious belief.
In a letter to Avery D. Andrews, Pershing put succinctly the apostolic creed to which he himself subscribed:
“It has been urged by some people at home that the Filipinos should be given their independence. Such a thing would result in anarchy. To whom should we over the government? Tagalog, Viscayan, Igorrote, Macabebe or Moro?No one can answer that any of these tribes represents the people in any sense, any more than the Sioux represents all the Indians in America. There is no national spirit, and except for the few agitators, these people do not want to try independence. They will have to be educated up to it and to self-government as we understand it, and their education will take some time and patience. It is a grand work cut out for us from which there should be no shirking.”
The Americans stayed on, Pershing said, because “the American people being obsessed with the idea of maintaining their new position as a world power, insisted on keeping the flag flying over a territory once it was in our possession.
In the long run, the only advantage the United States or the Philippines realized from the occupation was the military mission. The archipelago was never destined to become a great way station to exploit trade with the Orient. America and the world economy were finding uses for Philippine products, especially hemp, sugar, timber and minerals.
But as the world was discovering these products, the Filipinos were discovering corruption. By 1920, Wall Street learned that the directors of the [Wall Street-capitalized Philippine National] bank had dealt out so many unsecured loans that $24 million had simply evaporated. The bank’s reserves, which should have been retained in New York, had also vanished in alarming fashion. Similarly, American rail industries had capitalized the Manila Railroad Company, which piled up astronomical losses in only eight years. By 1921, the islands were insolvent.
Democracy and equal opportunity have always been problematic for the people of this archipelago. William Howard Taft warned the American electorate in 1912 that only 3 percent of the Filipinos voted and only 5 percent read the public press; to confer democracy on such a society was to subject the great mass to the dominance of an oligarchical and exploiting minority.
“The idea that public office is a public trust,” Taft said, “has not been planted in the Filipino mind by experience . . .”
(Pipe Clay and Drill; John J. Pershing: The Classical American Soldier”, Readers Digest Press, 1977, excerpts, pp 100-153)