Why is the First Philippine Republic Significant in History?
Kristoffer Pasion, Roscelle Cruz, and Eufemio Agbayani III
On 23 January 2021, we commemorate the inauguration of the First Philippine Republic in Malolos, Bulacan 122 years ago. The historic event was a culmination of the national project envisioned and begun by numerous Filipinos.
The First Republic can be traced back to the Propaganda Movement led by Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano Ponce, etc., which sought equal treatment of Filipinos and representation in the Cortes, the Spanish legislature. Their ideas were received and developed further by the likes of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto who established the Katipunan, took up arms, and fought for Philippine independence from Spain. As replacement to the Spanish colony, they envisioned a “Haring Bayang Katagalugan” where the power to govern emanates from the People—essentially a democratic society.
The desire to establish a republic, albeit in a different form, withstood the power struggle in the Tejeros Convention (22 March 1897) and continued in the Biak-na-Bato Republic (November 1897) which was terminated by the Pact of Biak-na-Bato (15 December 1897). A stipulation of this pact was the voluntary exile of Filipino revolutionary leaders to Hong Kong, but they must have left with the idea of a republic still on their minds.
With the help of a new superpower, the United States, Emilio Aguinaldo returned from exile to reclaim his role as leader of a nation in revolt in May 1898. As Filipinos gained ground inch by inch, and victory was within reach, it was decided that a solemn proclamation of Philippine independence be held in Kawit, Cavite on 12 June 1898. The written proclamation was signed mostly by military leaders. Another proclamation was issued on 1 August in Bacoor, Cavite ratified by town leaders and representatives elected by liberated towns.
With these proclamations, Filipinos showed the world that they were on their way to organizing a Republic equal to all the nations of the world. Its Constitution was drafted by an assembly of citizens representing the entire archipelago. It enshrined the rights of Filipino citizens denied by their colonizers. It organized a government with powers shared by three branches—the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. It recognized the separation of Church and State, promoted education, and valued the native tongue.
Although the Constitution underwent intense debate, the final draft was approved on 21 January, paving the way for the Republic’s inauguration two days later. Compared to previous Filipino governments, it enforced its own taxes, released currency and postage stamps, and established a university. Its army was organized, with ranks, uniforms, and an academy. It had a navy consisting of captured boats and steamships donated by wealthy Filipinos.
The Republic’s laws were published on its own gazette and enforced by authorities where copies could reach. It was recognized in almost the entire Luzon, parts of Mindanao, and even by the decentralized governments in the Visayas. Even before the Republic was formally inaugurated, the Comite Central Filipino based in Hong Kong had been managing the diplomatic affairs of an independent Philippines. It had representatives in Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, London, and Washington to promote the independence of the Philippines and seek its recognition.
Just twelve days after its festive inauguration, the Republic faced its greatest challenge. The United States turned out not to be an ally but a new colonizer, claiming that they came to teach Filipinos how to organize a democratic government. Yet in the few years of its existence, the First Philippine Republic proved to the world that Filipinos were and still are capable of self-government.
Want to know more? Visit our online exhibit on the Facebook Page of the Museo ng Republika ng 1899
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