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The Philippine Revolution

The Philippine Revolution took place between 1896 and 1902, ending Spanish colonial rule, which started when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi founded the city of Cebu in 1565. The Revolution was the first anti-colonial independence movement in Asia. It started with the establishment of a secret movement of the masses and later spread to the upper classes.

The Philippine Revolution had its roots in La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League), a progressive organization started by Dr. Jose Rizal in Manila in 1892. La Liga Filipina sought to aid Filipinos by establishing scholarships and cooperatives and providing capital and legal aid. Seeing the league as a threat, Spanish authorities arrested Rizal on July 6, 1892. La Liga Filipina dissolved in Rizal's absence.

A conservative faction formed the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, which supported La Solidaridad (The Solidarity), an organization established in Spain in 1888 by exiles and students that sought to increase Spanish awareness of the needs of the Philippines and establish a closer relationship between the country and its colony.

Led by Andres Bonifacio, a warehouse clerk, a radical cadre launched the Katipunan (Association). Bonifacio was the Supremo of the Katipunan and Emilio Jacinto was the brains of the organization. While its primary goal was to separate the Philippines from Spain, the Katipunan also assisted and defended the poor and oppressed. While poor, Bonifacio educated himself by reading the works of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, along with those of the French revolutionists.

Jose Rizal's two novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive), dealt with the incompetence and abuse of Spanish colonial officials. In 1872, a group including Rizal initiated the Propaganda Movement in Europe, calling for reforms in the Philippines. The Movement failed in its mission, prompting the Katipunan to call for revolution. Rizal cautioned Bonifacio when asked his opinion about a revolution in 1892, suggesting that the time was not right and the people were unprepared.

The Revolution started when the Spanish discovered the Katipunan on August 23, 1896. Bonifacio and his fellow Katipnuaneros tore up their cedúlas (identification cards), which symbolized colonial rule, and declared the Revolution. The execution of Rizal on December 30 made him a martyr and further spurred Filipinos to action.

Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964), who was to become the first President of the Philippines, joined the Katipunan in 1895 and soon became a general.

Development of a National Identity

Spanish colonial policy in the Philippines was to identify the population by regional ethnicity. The population in general was referred to as indios and further refined by region or ethnicity. The term Filipino by the nineteenth century had come to signify Spanish insulares (those born in the Philippines).

The Philippine Revolution was at first primarily associated with the Tagalog population, and fighting took place mostly in Tagalog provinces. This caused people in non-Tagalog areas to suspect that the Tagalogs might try to dominate them if they won the war. General Aguinaldo encouraged his officers to solicit local support when visiting their home areas; this is thought to have helped spread the Revolution. Suspicions were reinforced by writings such as Bonifacio's Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog (What the Tagalogs Should Know). However, the restricted use of the term Filipino may have led to this. Nevertheless, the idea slowly took hold that all inhabitants of the Philippines are Filipinos.

Class Conflict

The ilustrados—the class of Filipinos that had been educated in Spanish and exposed to European ideas—were often the children of the wealthy who sought to preserve their advantages. Hence, many of them sought equality rather than revolution.

Some ilustrados came to back the Revolution, albeit with different objectives than the Katipunan. Many remained noncommittal until the outcome became apparent.

Class distinctions led to the downfall of the Revolution's founder, Andres Bonifacio. General Aguinaldo was an ilustrado who had been a gobernadorcillo (administrator) of his home province, Cavite, for the Spanish.

Cavite was home to competing revolutionary councils. Based in Noveleta, the Magdiwang was headed by Mariano Alvarez, the uncle of Bonifacio's wife, Gregoria de Jesus. The Magdalo operated out of Kawit, and was led by Baldomero Aguinaldo, a cousin of Emilio Aguinaldo. The two organizations didn't get along, neither helping the other in battle.

Katipuneros in 1898

Katipuneros in 1898

The Tejeros Convention took place on March 22, 1897 in Tejeros, a village in San Francisco de Malabon, Cavite. Its object was to discuss the defense of Cavite, but the convention turned to the establishment of a revolutionary government and the election of its leaders. Emilio Aguinaldo, who was involved in military action in Imus at the time, was elected first President of the Philippines. Votes were cast only by 256 Katipuneros, to the exclusion of the general populace.

Andres Bonifacio accepted the election results. Supporters hoped he would be named Vice President, but Daniel Tirona, a Caviteño (Cavite native) maintained that the post should go to someone trained in law; Bonifacio was subsequently named Director of the Interior. Bonifacio demanded that Tirona withdraw his remark. He drew a gun when Tirona prepared to leave instead, but was prevented from shooting. Bonifacio then voided the convention.

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Aguinaldo was persuaded to order the arrest and trial of Bonifacio for treason, as he was said to be establishing his own, competing government. He and his brother, Procopio, were found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out on May 10, 1897.

Armistice and Entrance of the Americans

Aguinaldo's forces weren't faring well in Cavite, so the new leader retreated to Biak-na-Bato in the province of Bulacan. Aguinaldo stated that his government was willing to accept Spanish rule under certain conditions, including the withdrawal of Spanish Friars (missionaries) and return of the lands they had appropriated; Filipino representation on the Spanish Cortes (legislature); freedom of the press and religious tolerance; equal treatment and pay for peninsular and insular servants; and equality before the law.

The two sides agreed to an armistice. The Truce of Biak-na-Bato required Spain to remunerate the revolutionaries in exchange for surrender of arms and exile of its leaders. Aguinaldo and his subordinates took voluntary exile in Hong Kong in December 1898 and received a first payment of 400,000 pesos, most of which was deposited in a bank for the later purchase of weapons. The truce was doomed to failure due to mutual distrust.

Aguinaldo met U.S. consul Spencer Pratt in Singapore and was persuaded to cooperate with the Americans. The mysterious sinking of the U.S. warship Maine near Havana, Cuba, was the impetus for the Spanish-American War. Admiral George Dewey sailed from Hong Kong to Manila, where the U.S.S. Olympia defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. The Americans prevented Filipino forces from entering the captured city, causing deep resentment.

Aguinaldo claimed that U.S. consul Rounsenville Wildman urged him to return to the Philippines and resume resistance to the Spanish, and that the Americans pledged to support their struggle in exchange for their setting up a government similar to that of the United States. The Americans denied it.


Aguinaldo and his leaders returned to Cavite, vanquished the Spanish and declared independence on June 12, 1898. Aguinaldo declared a dictatorial government to preside while elections were held in various parts of the new country over the next six months. Elected provincial and town officials were largely those who presided under Spanish rule. This was the result of stringent requirements for voting and nomination to office, including “high character, social position and honorable conduct.” Hence, social class came again into play, and the elite protected their own, to the extent that many newly elected officials were former Spanish sympathizers.

Some areas of Luzon, the largest of the country's islands, were controlled by the masses, but these were exceptions. The ilustrados still demanded personal services from the common people, despite Aguinaldo's abolishment of the Spanish practice of polo y servicios (forced labor).

The entrance of the Americans into the fray influenced uncommitted ilustrados to side with the Revolution. Some who were members of the Spanish militia joined the Revolution when Aguinaldo returned from Hong Kong. The resumption of the Revolution elicited a powerful response from the people.

Malolos Congress, 1896

Malolos Congress, 1896

Aguinaldo wanted to show that Filipinos could govern themselves. To do this, he convened fellow ilustrados in a Congress which convened in Barasoain Church in Malolos (now Malolos City, Bulacan). The Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence of June 12 and produced the Malolos Constitution, Asia's first republican constitution, which was ratified in November and issued in January 1899.

The Constitution placed exclusive sovereignty with the people, set forth basic civil rights, called for separation of church and state, and established a legislature which elected a president to a four-year term.

The Philippine Republic established a capital in Malolos.

Annexation by the United States

The United States and Spain ended the Spanish-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. The treaty took effect on April 11, 1899.

The Filipino representative, Felipe Agoncillo, was excluded from the Paris negotiations because the revolutionary government was not recognized internationally. Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S. for the sum of $20 million.

The Philippine Republic resisted American occupation, resulting in the Philippine-American War (1899-1913).

"The Road" and the History of Filipino Movies: Released in May 2012, "The Road" is the first all-Filipino movie to be commercially released in North America in many years. We examine the rich history of Philippine cinema, which has seen artistic highs as well as exploitative "bomba" (erotic) films.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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