United States imperialism: The Philippines

In the North American Review of January, 1900, is an article entitled "A Filipino Appeal to the People of the United States," by Apolinario Mabini, formerly premier in Aguinaldo's cabinet. It professes to correct mis-statements of fact prejudicial to the Filipino cause, and it concludes thus:

The facts which I have related clearly disprove the assertion by Americans that the Filipinos provoked the hostilities.. The truth is that the Filipino people have never felt disposed to measure their strength with powerful America, otherwise Aguinaldo could not have put up with so many infamous actions at the hands of the American generals. They have always considered themselves little and insignificant beside the American people and hence they never thought of provoking the Americans, for they have always been aware that, even if they should gain a few victories, the fortunes of war would necessarily change as soon as reinforcements arrived from America.

And it is still more true that the Filipino people, educated by long sufferings during the protracted dominion of Spain, have learned to reflect and to judge things calmly, even in the midst of great excitement. They know that, no matter how great and civilized a people may be, it contains bad men as well as good men; and, therefore, they do not condemn all. For the same reason they admire the bravery shown by the American army in the recent fights; they still entertain, unalterably, that friendship towards the American people which places them above all other nations; they trust that the popular government of America will not sink to the level of the theocratic government of Spain, and that the spirit of justice, now obscured by ambition, will again shine in their firmament, as the civic virtues of their ancestors shine in their history and traditions.

The Filipino people are struggling in defense of their liberties and independence with the same tenacity and perseverance as they have shown in their sufferings. They are animated by an unalterable faith in the justice of their cause, and they know that if the American people will not grant them justice there is a Providence which punishes the crimes of nations as well as of individuals.

The report of the second Commission, of which Judge Taft was chairman, was laid before Congress in January, 1901. It has much to say about the Friars, and the information is here quoted in substance:

Ordinarily, the government of the United States and its servants have little or no concern with religious societies or corporations and their members. With us the Church is so completely separated from the State that it is difficult to imagine cases in which the policy of a church in the selection of its ministers and the assignment of them to duty can be regarded as of political moment, or as a proper subject of comment in the report of a public officer. In the pacification of the Philippines by our government, however, it is impossible to ignore the great part which such a question plays.

By the revolutions of 1896 and 1898 against Spain all the Dominicans, Augustinians, Recoletos and Franciscans acting as parish priests were driven from their parishes to take refuge in Manila. Forty were killed and 403 were imprisoned and were not all released until by the advance of the American troops it became impossible for the insurgents to retain them. Of the 1,124 who were in the islands in 1896 only 472 remain. The remainder either perished, returned to Spain or went to China or South America.

The burning political question, discussion of which strongly agitates the people of the Philippines, is whether the members of the four great orders of St. Dominic, St. Augustine, St. Francis and the Recoletos shall return to the parishes from which they were driven by the revolution. Colloquially the term "friars" includes the members of these four orders. The Jesuits, Capuchins, Benedictines and the Paulists, of whom there are a few teachers here, have done only mission work or teaching, and have not aroused the hostility existing against the four large orders to which we are now about to refer.

The truth is that the whole government of Spain in these islands rested on the friars. To use the expression of the provincial of the Augustinians, the friars were "the pedestal, or foundation, of the sovereignty of Spain in these islands," which, being removed, "the whole structure would topple over." The number of Spanish troops in these islands did not exceed 5,000 until the revolution. The tenure of office of the friar curate was permanent. There was but little rotation of priests among the parishes. Once settled in a parish, a priest usually continued there until super-annuation. He was, therefore, a constant political factor for a generation. The same was true of the archbishop and the bishops. The civil and military officers of Spain in the islands were here for not longer than four years, and more often for a less period. The friars, priests and bishops, therefore, constituted a solid, powerful, permanent, well organized political force in the islands which dominated politics. The stay of those officers who attempted to pursue a course at variance with that deemed wise by the orders was invariably shortened by monastic influence.

Of the four great orders, one, the Franciscans, is not permitted to own property, except convents and schools. This is not true of the other three. They own some valuable business property in Manila, and have large amounts of money to lend. But the chief property of these orders is in agricultural land. The total amount owned by the three orders in the Philippines is approximately 403,000 acres.

In the light of these considerations it is not wonderful that the people should regard the return of the friars to their parishes as a return to the conditions existing before the revolution. The common people are utterly unable to appreciate that under the sovereignty of the United States the position of the friar as curate would be different from that under Spain.

This is not a religious question, though it concerns the selection of religious ministers for religious communities. The Philippine people love the Catholic Church.

"The feeling against the friars is solely political. The people would gladly receive as ministers of the Roman Catholic religion any save those who are to them the embodiment of all in the Spanish rule that was hateful. If the friars return to their parishes, though only under the same police protection which the American government is bound to extend to any other Spanish subjects in these islands, the people will regard it as the act of that government. They have so long been used to having every phase of their conduct regulated by governmental order that the coming again of the friars will be accepted as an executive order to them to receive the friars as curates with their old, all-absorbing functions. It is likely to have the same effect on them that the return of General Weyler under an American commission as governor of Cuba would have had on the people of that island.

"Those who are charged with the duty of pacifying these islands may, therefore, properly have the liveliest concern in a matter which, though on its surface only ecclesiastical, is, in the most important phase of it, political, and fraught with the most critical consequences to the peace and good order of the country in which it is their duty to set up civil government. We are convinced that a return of the friars to their parishes will lead to lawless violence and murder, and that the people will charge the course taken to the American government, thus turning against it the resentment felt towards the friars.

"The friars have large property interests in these islands which the United States government is bound by treaty obligations and by the law of its being to protect. It is natural and proper that the friars should feel a desire to remain where so much of their treasure is. Nearly all the immense agricultural holdings have been transferred by the three orders -- by the Dominicans to a man named Andrews, by the Recoletos to an English corporation and by the Augustinians to another corporation; but these transfers do not seem to have been out-and-out sales, but only a means for managing the estates without direct intervention of the friars, or for selling the same when a proper price can be secured. The friars seem to remain the real owners."

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