February 15, 2019

Apolinario Mabini’s Letters to the Philippine Commission Seeking an Armistice Early in the Fil-Am War

Captured Filipino "insurgents" with American soldiers during the Philippine-American War. Image extracted from the public domain book "Souvenir of the 8th Army Corps Philippine Expedition:  a Pictorial History." Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Captured Filipino "insurgents" with American soldiers during the Philippine-American War. Image extracted from the public domain book "Souvenir of the 8th Army Corps Philippine Expedition:  a Pictorial History." Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
The December 1898 Treaty of Paris formally ended the Spanish-American War; and as the defeated nation, Spain officially “relinquished all claims of sovereignty” to several of its territories, including the Philippines1. The Philippine government under Emilio Aguinaldo, which had been led to believe that the United States had fought Spain with the intent of assisting the Filipinos attain independence, was not even represented in the negotiations leading to this treaty, although it had sent Don Felipe Agoncillo to try and get representation.

Naturally, the signing of the treaty was not received well back in the Philippines. Meanwhile, in the United States, in January of 1899, a commission2 was appointed “in order to facilitate the most humane, pacific and effective expansion of authority throughout these islands, and to secure, with the last possible delay, the benefits of a wise and generous protection of life and property to the inhabitants3.”

Before the commission could even start executing its mandate, the Philippine-American War broke out in February of 18994. That the war was coming was inevitable the moment the Paris Treaty was signed. However, as the war was going on, Apolinario Mabini, on behalf of Aguinaldo’s government, wrote at least twice to the Philippine Commission asking for an armistice.

Two of his letters are republished below in their entirety. The reader will quickly note that, while acknowledging American military superiority, Mabini implicitly laid the blame for the outbreak of war on the doorsteps of the Americans, with a veiled threat about the Filipino’s capacity to wage a prolonged war which the American government did not want.

Both letters were written from San Isidro in Nueva Ecija. The first letter was dated 29 April 18995:
HONORABLE GENTLEMEN [of the Philippine Commission]

The Philippine people through its government, makes known to the commission that it has not yet lost its confidence in the friendship, justice, and magnanimity of the North American nation.

It feels itself weak before the advance of the American troops, whose valor it admires, and in view of the superiority of their organization, discipline, fighting material, and other resources, does not feel humiliated in soliciting peace, invoking the generous sentiments of the Government of the North American people, worthily represented by the commission, and the sacred interests of humanity.

But the Philippine Government, fully convinced that it has not provoked war, and that it has only employed its arms in defense of the integrity of its native land, asks for suspension of hostilities and a general armistice in all the Archipelago for the short time of three months, in order to enable it to consult the opinions of the people consulting the government which would be most advantageous, and the intervention in it which should be given to the North American Government, and to appoint an extraordinary commission with full powers to act in the name of the Philippine people.

The welfare of this unfortunate country and the triumph of the governing party in the United States of America, depend upon the prompt establishment of peace. We confess ourselves weak, but we still possess resources — above all, the unfaltering resolution to prolong the war for an indefinite space of time, if the undertaking to dominate us by force is persisted in.

In laying before the commission the preceding statements I believe that I interpret the sentiments of my President and his government and those of the Philippine people.

I salute the commission with the greatest respect.

Your most obedient servant,

A.P. Mabini


Meanwhile, the second letter was dated 1 May 18996:
The members of the Philippine Government have commissioned Col. Manuel Arguelles to present and explain to the North American commission to the Philippines the following points:

First. The Philippine Government finds itself compelled to negotiate an armistice and a suspension of hostilities as an indispensable means of arriving at peace; in the first place, in order to justify itself before its people as having employed all the means in its power to avoid the ruin of the country, and in the second place, to offer to the commission a means of putting an end to the war in a manner most honorable to the American Army and most glorious to the Government of the United States.

Second. It does not solicit the armistice to gain a space of time in which to re-enforce itself, nor does it expect aid from Japan nor from any other nation, as no government up to the present time has recognized its belligerency, nor is disposed to injure its relations with powerful America, especially as there is nothing to be gained thereby. The Philippine Government earnestly desiring the felicity of its people, while it is still in the pursuit of independence, would not insist upon fighting for its ideal if the Philippine people through its accredited representatives should ask for peace and accept autonomy.

Third. The interests of humanity are at present in harmony with those of the North American Government, and both ask for a brief space of time, however short, in which the Philippine people may reflect upon their sad situation and may understand the bases of the autonomy which is offered to them.

Fourth. If, however, this last recourse is denied it, no one can blame the Philippine Government for the tenacity which it may show. The honor of the army and the happiness of the country will then determine the only line of conduct for it to pursue, namely, to prolong the struggle until it reaches the end of its resources. This prolongation of the struggle would be fatal to both peoples.

Let the commission reflect, then, while there is time, that if the war is converted into a national war it would be very difficult to keep it within bounds.

In that case, peace would mean the annihilation of the Philippine people or that of the imperialistic party of America.

A.P. MABINI
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Notes and references:
1Treaty of Paris (1898),” Wikipedia.
2 The First Philippine Commission was commissioned by United States President William McKinley and was headed by Jacob Gould Schurman, a Canada-born educator and diplomat. Hence, the commission was alternatively referred to as the Schurman Commission. “Schurman Commission,” Wikipedia.
3 From the Report of the Philippine Commission, as quoted in “Seeking an armistice: April and May, 1899 First Series Volume VIII,” published 1901 by the Philippine Information Society, p. 5, online at the Internet Archive.
4Philippine–American War,” Wikipedia.
5 “Seeking an armistice: April and May, 1899 First Series Volume VIII,” op. cit. pp. 7-8.
6 “Seeking an armistice: April and May, 1899 First Series Volume VIII,” op. cit. pp. 8-9.

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