THE FIRST PHILIPPINE REPUBLIC
Though short-lived, the First Philippine, nonetheless catapulted the Filipino nation onto the world’s consciousness carving not only a place among the family of nations but also a distinct niche as the first republic in Asia. While much of the world was oblivious to its birthing, the First Republic proved that Filipinos were capable of self-rule and deserved their longed-for freedom after more than 300 years of colonial bondage- a bondage shaken time and again by sporadic revolts, whose disparateness precluded ultimate victory.
After the failure of the reformist movement led by Rizal and Del Pilar, Andres the 1896-98 Philippine Revolution, culminated with the inauguration of the Republic on January 23, 1899 at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. Though besieged and eventually thwarted by the United States army, the Republic had earned the loyalty of the Filipino people and deserved the recognition of foreign nations.
When General Emilio Famy Aguinaldo returned to the country from his exile in Hong Kong in May 1898, the truce signed between Filipino revolutionists and Spaniards at Biak-na-Bato, San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan in December 1897 had been broken in many parts of the country. Upon advice of Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista Aguinaldo, established a dictatorial government of the Philippines on May 24. Four days later, the Filipino rebels routed the Spaniards in Alapan, Cavite, a victory celebrated by Aguinaldo with the first, albeit informal, waving of the National Flag on Philippine soil. The event preempted the May 31st launching of the second phase of the revolution. By July 1898, the Filipinos liberated the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Pampanga, most of Bulacan and the suburbs surrounding Manila.
On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from the window of his house in Kawit, Cavite, and waved the Philippine Flag officially for the first time to the martial strains of the new national anthem.
Mabini’s plan to establish a grassroots government was realized towards the latter half of June 1898. Aguinaldo issued several important decrees reorganizing the government in the liberated provinces: the decree of June 18 reorganized municipalities and provinces, through the election of Popular Assemblies, whose heads the town chiefs then elected the provincial councils. The decree also provided for the election of delegates to the Revolutionary Congress by the town chiefs. To Mabini, the latter were Aguinaldo’s direct link to the masses and on August 1, 1898, these town officials assembled at Bacoor, then the seat of the Revolutionary government, and ratified the newly proclaimed Philippine independence.
On June 20, Aguinaldo issued a decree organizing the judiciary, and on June 23, again upon Mabini’s advice, major changes were promulgated and implemented: change of government from Dictatorial to Revolutionary; change of the Executive title from Dictator to President; the establishment of four major departments including that of foreign affairs, navy and commerce; war and public works, police and internal order; and finance, agriculture and manufacture industries (this was later expanded to six departments with addition of welfare and treasury departments); the appointment of delegates to the Revolutionary Congress from the non-liberated provinces, to ensure wider representation, and the creation of the Executive Board of the Revolutionary Committee at Hong Kong, which served as the diplomatic and international propaganda arm of the Republic. Two underlying principles motivated the establishment of a revolutionary government: to help the country achieve true independence and pave the way towards the formation of a “true republic”.
As Mabini envisioned it, the Revolutionary Congress created by the June 18 decree had several aims: to promote the interest of the Filipinos through the passage of relevant laws and to serve as the Executive’s advisory body. On September 15 Aguinaldo formally opened the revolutionary congress at the church of Barasoain in Malolos. Later the representatives elected their officers: Pedro Paterno, president; Benito Legarda, Vice President; Gregorio Araneta, First Secretary and Pablo Ocampo, Second Secretary. It was not long after their first convening that the Malolos Representatives ran into conflict with Mabini, who believed that the times demanded not the writing of a supreme law, which required the luxury of time, but an executive made strong by congressional support. In the end Congress prevailed over Mabini, and began their constitutional work. There were three draft constitutions presented: one authored by Mabini, another by Paterno and a third drafted by Felipe Calderon, a Cavite lawyer. The latter’s draft, influenced by constitutions of various South American nations, was eventually chosen.
Despite its brief existence, the Malolos Congress earned its place in Philippine history if only for two achievements: the ratification of the declaration of independence on September 29, 1898 and the framing of the Malolos Constitution, which was promulgated by President Aguinaldo on January 21, 1899. To its eternal credit, the Malolos Congress, transcended its elite background by producing a supreme law distinguished for its democratic and pluralist ideals. These were embodied in the following provisions: the distribution of power in three separate branches of government: a legislature which was unicameral- the “Assembly” of elected representatives; the Executive branch, represented by the President supported by a Cabinet; and the Judiciary composed of the Supreme Court, headed by a Chief Justice to be elected by the Assembly, and lower courts. The Constitution likewise protected the people against the abuse of power with a registry of individual and national rights. Most important, it was imbued with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people.
The Repubic was inaugurated on January 23, 1899 at Barasoain Church, Malolos, in ceremonies marked by the reading of the whole Constitution, by Secretary Ocampo; proclamation of the Republic of the Philippines by Congress president Paterno, followed by the proclamation of Aguinaldo as the elected President of the new Republic, and speeches by Aguinaldo and Paterno.
The Central government of the new Republic was constituted in part as follows:
President- Emilio Aguinaldo
Department Secretaries- War – Baldomero Aguinaldo
Interior- Leandro Ibarra
Foreign Affairs- Cayetano Arellano (later replaced by Mabini)
Finance- Mariano Trias
Justice- Gregorio Araneta
Welfare- Felipe Buencamino
Even as it battled a new enemy disguised by US President William McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” proclamation, the new government suffered dissension within its ranks. The Mabini Cabinet was replaced by the Paterno Cabinet around May 9, 1899.
Meanwhile, Felipe Agoncillo, foremost Filipino diplomat, exerted all efforts to obtain European and American recognition of Philippine independence and sovereignty, especially after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898 ceded the Philippines to the United States. In January 1899 he tried every means to prevent the ratification of the Treaty of Paris by the US Senate, knowing this would seal the fate of the Filipinos, again to no avail.
Post Script to the Republic. February 4, 1899, less than two weeks after the Republic’s inauguration, an American soldier on Sociego corner Silencio Streets in Santa Mesa, Manila, fired a shot against Filipino patrols in the area, sparking the Filipino-American War. The outbreak of hostilities between Filipino and American forces caused the imperialist agenda in the US Senate to gain the upper hand, resulting in the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on February 6, thus justifying the United States all-out pursuit of war against the fledgling Philippine Republic.
On March 31 Malolos, seat of the Philippine Republic, fell into enemy hands, followed on April 26 by Calumpit, where the Filipino forces led by over-all commander Gen. Luna were also routed.
On May 9, the Central government moved to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, only four days after Congress convened at neighboring San Isidro town. As the American army closed in on him Aguinald moved the government to Tarlac, and then to Bayambang, Pangasinan. The latter fell on November 13. In a final bid to swing the odds in their favor, Aguinaldo ordered the shift from regular to guerrilla warfare even as he began his exodus to the north. It did not take long before the government of the Filipinos disintegrated with the capture of its officials Buencamino in November and Mabini in December 1899, Paterno in April 1900. Aguinaldo himself was captured in Palanan, Isabela, on March 23, 1901, a day after his 32nd birthday. When he took the oath of allegiance to the United States nine days later, the First Philippine Republic came to an end.