by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
To have the wool pulled over one’s eyes is a colorful metaphor for being trounced by cunning and duplicity, bywords ascribed to dirty politics and disingenuous government officials. In our country, we have our own brand of peculiar euphemisms for corrupt functionaries such as ‘trapo,’ a portmanteau for a traditional politician with a double entendre for a sullied rag; balimbing, for the turncoat with erratic party loyalties; and buwaya, for those whose fingers are illicitly dipped into the government’s coffers.
Although unscrupulous politicians have existed since ancient times, it was through the writings of Renaissance courtier Niccolo Machiavelli that the manners and diabolical machinations of princes have been wittily described and scrutinized. In fact, Machiavelli’s name is associated with any malevolent and criminal act committed by a ruler, which justifies the survival of his nation-state and/ or his political career.
With all of the hoopla of charges and counter charges of corruption that flew between the defense and prosecution panels during Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, Filipinos have surely become fascinated and adept at the twists and turns of sly maneuverings perpetrated by both parties and senator-judges. Aided by multimedia coverage, politics in the august Senate hall have become the bread and circuses of the Filipino masses.
The road to our country’s independence and nationhood has been hindered by the naïveté, bitter rivalries, and petty bickering of the Revolution’s foremost actors, weaknesses that the Americans exploited to further their imperialist agenda in Southeast Asia. In French journalist Henri Turot’s incisive narrative of the Philippine Revolution Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins, which was published in Paris in 1900, he notes that the United States’ scheming to colonize the Philippines commenced even before the Spanish-American War was declared, with American emissaries negotiating with General Emilio Aguinaldo in March 1898: “A number of persons found the following role of the Commander of the Petrel, one of the vessels in the squadron of Admiral Dewey, to solicit the interview. This interview, followed by many others, was held on March 16: the Commander of Petrel urged strongly Aguinaldo to return to the Philippines and to resume hostilities against the Spaniards promising the assistance of the United States if war broke out against Spain.”1 (Plusieurs personnes vinrent trouver celui-ci de la part du commandant du Pétrel, un des navires de l’escadre de l’amiral Dewey, pour solliciter une entrevue. Cette entrevue, suivie de plusieurs autres, eut lieu le 16 mars: le commandant du Pétrel engagea vivement Aguinaldo à retourner aux Philippines et à reprendre les hostilités contre les Espagnols, promettant l’assistance des Etats-Unis si la guerre éclatait contre l’Espagne…)2
To assuage his doubts on America’s sincerity, Aguinaldo asked the Commander what the United States would do in favor of the Philippines. Turot stated that the response was noncommittal: “The United States, replied the Commander, is a big and rich nation and does not need a colony.”3 (Les Etats-Unis, répondit le commandant, sont une grande et riche nation et n’ont pas besoin de colonie.)4
Negotiations were further pursued during Aguinaldo’s sojourn in Singapore on April 21, 1898 by United States Consul Spencer Pratt: “During this interview, Consul Pratt said that since the Spaniards did not comply with their promises in the treaty of Biak-na-Bato, the Filipinos had the right to continue the revolution that was suspended by the agreement that was concluded, and after pressing Aguinaldo to renew hostilities against the Spaniards, he gave him assurances that the United States will grant more liberty and material advantages to the Filipinos which the Spaniards never promised them.”5 (Pendant cette entrevue, le consul Pratt dit que, puisque les Espagnols n’avaient pas tenu les promesses faites dans le traité de Biak-Na-Bato, les Philippins avaient le droit de continuer la révolution qui avait été suspendue par l’arrangement conclu, et, après avoir pressé Aguinaldo de reprendre les hostilités contre les Espagnols, il lui donna l’assurance que les Etats-Unis accorderaient plus de liberté et d’avantages matériels aux Philippins que ne leur en avait promis l’Espagne.)6
Turot continues that Aguinaldo and Consul Pratt agreed on thirteen points to guarantee the United States’ intentions of respecting Philippine sovereignty, four of which are the most significant: 7,8
1. The independence of the Philippines will be proclaimed. (L’indépendance des Philippines sera proclamée.)
2. There will be a centralized Republic with a government whose members will be provisionally named by Aguinaldo. (Il sera établi une République centralisée avec un gouvernement dont les membres seront provisoirement nommés par Aguinaldo.)
3. The Government will recognize a temporary intervention of American and European Commissioners to be designated by Admiral Dewey. (Ce gouvernement reconnaîtra une intervention temporaire des commissaires américains et européens désignés par l’amiral Dewey.)
4. The American protectorate will be established under the same terms and conditions that were accepted in Cuba. (Le protectorat américain sera établi dans les mêmes termes et conditions qu’il est accepté à Cuba.)
In Emilio Aguinaldo’s own narration of these events, published in Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution), he states that Consul Pratt was evasive of the United States’ acquiescence to the agreement and telegraphed Admiral Dewey for advice: “Between 10 or 12 in the forenoon of the next day the conference was renewed and Mr. Pratt then informed me that the Admiral had sent him a telegram in reply to the wish I had expressed for an agreement in writing. He said the Admiral’s reply was -That the United States would at least recognize the Independence of the Philippines under the protection of the United States Navy. The Consul added that there was no necessity for entering into a formal written agreement because the word of the Admiral and of the United States Consul were in fact equivalent to the most solemn pledge that their verbal promises and assurance would be fulfilled to the letter and were not to be classed with Spanish promises or Spanish ideas of a man’s word of honor. In conclusion the Consul said, ‘The Government of North America is a very honest, just, and powerful government.’”9
During Aguinaldo’s arrival in the Philippines on May 19, 1898 aboard the ship McCulloch, he was immediately conveyed to Admiral Dewey’s flagship Olympia, where Dewey continued to assure him 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.”10
Even after the declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898, Admiral Dewey, during a visit to Aguinaldo in Cavite a month later, pointed out: “Have faith in my word, and I assure you that the United States will recognize the independence of the country. But I recommend you to keep a good deal of what we have said and agreed secret at present…”11
As our history attests, these promises uttered by the Americans were empty and facetious, a ploy to gain the Filipinos’ support to hasten the defeat of the Spanish. A few months later, the Philippine-American War would erupt, resulting in the deaths of roughly 20,000 Filipino soldiers, 200,000 Filipino civilians, and 4,000 American soldiers. Never was there a great price of lives lost due to the United States’ falsities to accomplish its imperialist ambitions.
1 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 140.
2 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 100-101.
3 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 140.
4 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 101.
5 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 141.
6 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 102-103.
7 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 141.
8 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 103.
9 Emilio Aguinaldo, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution) (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002) 97-98.
10 Emilio Aguinaldo, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution) (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002) 100-101.
11 Emilio Aguinaldo, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution) (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002) 114.