Today in Philippine history, August 10, 1898, Felipe Agoncillo went to the US as representative of Filipino Government

Monday August 08, 2016 ()

Filipino diplomats in Paris
(Felipe Agoncillo (seated second from left) and other Filipino diplomats in Paris, 1898)

On August 10, 1898, Felipe Agoncillo was ordered to go to the United States as representative of the Filipino Revolutionary Government. A member of the Executive body of the Revolutionary junta based in Hongkong, Agoncillo was to represent the Philippines in the peace conference in Paris between the United States and Spain.

Agoncillo arrived in the US on September 27, and was privately received by US President McKinley on October 1. Although Agoncillo was well received, the impression that he gathered was that there was no intention on the part of McKinley to recognize the Philippine Republic. McKinley had already decided on a course of action with regard to the Philippines, and that was to demand Luzon from the Spaniards.

Today in Philippine history, August 10, 1898, Felipe Agoncillo went to the US as representative of Filipino Government

Several days afterwards, General Merritt arrived with statements on conditions in the Philippine Islands from General Greene, Major Bell, Admiral Dewey, Colonel Jewett, and the Belgian consul, Andre. These statements of Philippine conditions were to guide the American commissioners in deciding the fate of the Philippines.

Practically all these statements where of the same tenor - that it would not be wise to return all of the Islands or perhaps even any of them to Spain, that the natives would not offer much resistance to American rule, and that, above all, the cession of the entire archipelago (not just Luzon) would be a "good business proposition" for the American nation.

The opinion which probably weighed most on the American commissioners as coming from an impartial observer was that of the Belgian consul in Manila, Mr. Andre. He said:

The United States can assure a steady government in these Islands, and in their hands the country will increase in wealth, and will, in a short time, be able to return to the United States money laid out; and it would be certainly much cheaper and more humane to take the entire Philippines than to keep only part of it and to run the risk of a second war with Spain for the very same reason that provoked the present conflict. It is the duty of the United States to do so and to protect the entire country.

These information received failed, however, to harmonize the conflicting views of the American commissioners as to the disposition of the Philippines, and on October 25, 1898, the commissioners cabled their different opinions to Washington.

President McKinley's answer through Secretary Hay showed a change of policy. Now the President wanted the entire Philippines; he was now convinced that the acceptance of the cession of Luzon alone, leaving the rest of the Islands subject to Spanish rule, or to be the occasions of future contention, cannot be justified on political, commercial, or humanitarian grounds.

Agoncillo's presence in Paris did not have any influence either on the peace conference itself or on the American commissioners. He was refused a hearing by both of them. The most that was done was the submission by General F. V. Greene his "Brief Notes by Señor Agoncillo".

After receiving further instructions the commissioners from Washington, McKinley forward an ultimate proposal for the occasion of the whole archipelago and the payment by the United States of $20,000,000.

Realizing that this proposal admitted of no other alternative and that they must accept it or break off negotiations, the Spanish commissioners finally submitted to what they called "the law of the victor", and on November 29 formally agreed to the proposal. The treaty was finally signed on December 10, 1898.

After the signature of the treaty, the American Commissioners returned to Washington. Agoncillo went also in the hope that something might still be done in the American capital, and in truth, in Washington his cause had a better chance of winning, for considerable opposition was developed in the Senate with regard to the cession of the Philippines.

Many of the opponents of ratification felt that the treaty was an injustice to the Filipinos, and therefore opposed it. They did not understand why the Cubans should be treated differently from the Filipinos, especially when Admiral Dewey repeatedly asserted that the Filipinos were better qualified for self-government than the Cubans.

Two days before the date set for the US Senate vote on the treaty, the Filipino-American War broke out, the Filipinos, it was claimed, having treacherously begun the hostilities. This belief was strengthened by the fact that the day before the outbreak, Agoncillo, probably alarmed by the press attacks upon him and the statements that he was likely to be arrested, had fled to Montreal, Canada. From this arose the belief that he knew of the intentded attack and hence had made his escape.

On February 6, 1899, the US Senate met in executive session, the decisive day for the treaty. It needed two thirds of the votes, which is 60 votes, to be ratified, and it had only 58 sure votes, 29 being against, the remaining three are doubtful. Within an hour two of the doubtful votes were declared to be for the treaty, and the third was cast for it after two roll calls, the final vote being 61-29 in favor of the treaty.

The Anti-Imperialist League, believed that what changed the deciding votes was the outbreak of hostilities in Manila two days earlier.

Sources:

  1. The development of Philippine politics, Maximo M. Kalaw, Oriental Commercial Company, Inc, 1927, Manila

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