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The Unfinished Philippine Revolution of 1896-98

Updated on April 1, 2014

Andres Bonifacio, leader of the armed revolution against Spain, in the cover of a book on Philippine history

Delegates in the first Philippine Congress in the Barasoain church at Malolos, Bulacan, January 1899

The Philippine revolution of 1896-98 should be finished

Why do we say that that Philippine revolution of 1896-98 is unfinished?

First. The apparatus of restructured government had not yet been completely installed throughout the islands. The Philippines is composed of 1,700 islands.

Second. The structure of taxation and mechanism in collecting taxes have not yet been completely deployed.

Third. The redistribution of vast tracks of lands awarded to favored feudal lords by the Spanish king had not yet begun.

Fourth. The USA conquered the Philippines to make it its first territory in its empire in the far east.

Fifth. The Catholic church is still intact to a status desired by Filipinos in 1872 yet.

Redistribution of land

At that time, the new government was busy putting its structure and mechanisms in place. Smaller government units were still held by the traditional leaders, those who were favored by the colonists who were also the propertied. Although the first Philippine constitution hammered out in a convention in January 1899 spelled out a republican structure, democracy in the provinces was not yet in practice.

The same constitution provided for three branches of government: presidency, legislative, and judiciary. There was one provision that was carved out by the privileged among the delegates in the constitutional convention. That provision says that when Congress is in recess, a council of elders will take its place. It is implied that membership in this council of elders will consist of the rich.

Apolinario Mabini, a lawyer, a Mason, prime minister and who belonged to the poor, fought this provision to no avail. The rich had taken over the constitutional convention. The prominent ones were former negotiators of Spain with the revolutionaries. When the Spaniards were driven out they changed loyalties to save their skin.

The rich were also the feudal lords who were awarded with vast tracks of land by the Spanish king. So it came about that the vast tracks of land remained intact in their hands. The haciendas, as they were called, were never broken up and redistributed to the poor.

Conquest by the United States

The Filipinos fought the Americans hard. The Americans suffered more casualties in the Philippine-American war (1899-1902) than they did in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. USA had less motivation to keep Cuba than to conquer the Philippines that could serve as a jumping board to the vast China market. Annexation of the Philippines by USA curtailed the development of government machinery and political ideology among Filipinos. The economy was suffused into the US economy in such a manner that the Philippine economy was dependent on the imperialist.

Such dependence on the part of the Philippines and control on the part of the USA has remained up until now. The USA has cultivated the rich or oligarchs as the collaborators in its control over the Philippines.

USA never broke up any hacienda. Instead it opened more public lands through the homestead system. Seven to 24 hectares of virgin lands were awarded to a family provided the family took care of the lot, cut down trees and cleared it for agricultural cultivation.

To break up the hacienda system would mean undermining the power of the feudal lords whom the USA used as collaborators in controlling the Philippines.

Howard H. Taft, as the first American civilian governor-general of the Philippines, bought some pieces of land from the Catholic church to make them part of one province like Mindoro. Taft must have forgotten that the USA had bought the Philippines from Spain! (Taft went on to become president of USA sponsored by the kingmaker, Hanna, a pineapple fruit tycoon.)

Taft went further to pacify the Filipinos. He promoted Jose Rizal as the number one national hero. This is a psychological ploy because Rizal was a man of peace and reforms, not a revolutionary who advocated the use of arms to liberate the Filipinos. Taft relegated Andres Bonifacio who organized the Katipunan to liberate the Filipinos by means of armed revolution.

In every town, a street was named after Rizal. In every municipality, a monument of Rizal was erected. Societies honoring Rizal were organized. Writers wrote long and short pieces in honor of Rizal. One author, Gregorio Zaide, could write a biography of Rizal in one sitting, according to Teodoro A. Agoncillo, author of the biography of Andres Bonifacio.

Major streets are named after Americans: Dewey boulevard (now Roxas boulevard), Roosevelt avenue, MacArthur highway. A plaza "Lawton" was named after a general, Henry Lawton, who was one of those responsible for the conquest of the Philippines. Lawton was killed by a Filipino general, Gen. Licerio Geronimo, in Morong, Rizal. Their forces were deployed on opposite sides of Morong river with the Filipino troops occupying a higher elevation. One morning Lawton was inspecting his troops and displaying himself taunting the obsolete guns the Filipinos were using. Gen. Geronimo spotted him and shot him. Lawton died a few days later. To make him a hero in the eyes of America, a major plaza in front of the Philippine Post Office in Manila was named after him.

Lawton plaza was renamed Plaza Bonifacio after Andres Bonifacio, now considered the national hero ahead of Rizal. Bonifacio was born in Manila. However, colonial mentality still lingers among Filipinos such that they still refer to this plaza as Lawton. Passenger jeepneys and buses plying the area display signboards "Lawton" instead of "Bonifacio."

America broke up feudalism in Japan as feudalism was the base of power of war freak Japanese leaders. America rehabilitated Japan, a former enemy. America has maintained the Philippines a neocolony, no matter if the Filipinos were friendly to the Americans, who bore the brunt of onslaught by the Japanese imperial army in WWII.

When the Americans cleared Manila of Japanese to eventually invade Japan, they bombed Manila so heavily that very few concrete buildings remained standing. Manila was declared an open city by Gen. MacArthur so that there was no need to pulverize it. Manila was the second most devastated city by WWII next to Warsaw of Poland; the destruction having been perpetrated by Americans.

Filipino soldiers in WWII were considered American citizens because America was still ruling the Philippines up until July 4,1946. American soldiers who survived the battles in the Philippines and the Death March were given their war benefits immediately. Most Filipino-American war veterans were not given their war benefits up until the first term of Pres. Barack Obama. Deadline for claims for benefit was February 16.2010. That is, after a lapse of 50 years and most of the Filipino veterans were already dead who could not claim war benefits. Their survivors, meaning orphans, are not qualified to get a posthumous pension.

(I have a Hub "For lack of knowledge in computers, Mr. Alejandro C. Almonte lost his benefits as Filipino-American veteran in WWII").

In the judgment of Teodoro A. Agoncillo, National Scientist for History and author of several history books including “History of the Filipino People” the Americans did more damage to the Philippines than did the Spaniards. The Americans ruled for about 45 years; the Spaniards ruled for about 300 years.

The Catholic church is still intact

The political arm of Spain had been cut off. However, the religious arm has remained intact. The Filipinos are 85% Catholic.

During the Spanish regime, there was unity of the state and church. That is, the political arm and the religious arm were one. When the Filipinos had gained independence from Spain they should have cut off both the political arm and the religious arm, meaning temporal governance of the religious.

The Filipino revolutionaries were ideologically predisposed to separate the state from the church. In the constitutional convention at Barasoain church the issue of the separation of state and church was taken up. The separation of the state and church won by only one vote, that of delegate Felipe. That is the measure by which the Catholic church has clung in the Filipino society.

One saving grace though is that the revolutionaries established the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) that is not beholden to the pope. The first supreme bishop was Monsignor Gregorio Aglipay. Historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo wrote in his book “History of the Filipino People,” that the PIC is the only tangible achievement of the Philippine revolution of 1896-98.

It would appear that no one among the poor delegates had read about the French revolution of 1799 when the revolutionaries abolished the privileges of the nobles and the clergy. A constitution of the church was promulgated that defined the territory and role of the church.

Likewise, it would seem that no one among the poor delegates had read about the revolt of King Henry III of England who established the Anglican church in 1532. This church severed its ties with Rome; King Henry III made himself the supreme bishop not beholden to the pope. The land properties of the Catholic church were confiscated and the Catholic church was made to pay taxes.

Be that as it may, the fine points in the separation of the church and state were not spelled out. That is true up until now. The Philippines ratified the 1987 constitution that has replaced the 1973 constitution imposed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A constitutional commission was called to craft a draft. There were 60 members of the constitutional commission, at least 8 of them are direct representatives of the Catholic church: Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ., Bishop Teodoro C. Bacani, Fr. Ponciano L. Bennagen, SJ., Sister Christine O. Tan, Francisco “Soc” A. Rodrigo, and Bernardo M. Villegas (member of Opus Dei). Most of the members are Catholics. This constitution says that there is a separation of church and state. But it does not define the role of one vis-à-vis the other. This silence is deceptive because it gives more leeway for the church to define its own roles and carry them out. The Philippine government has remained blind to temporal ideology and practices of the Catholic church because the Filipino politicians are afraid of the Catholic vote.

The recent national elections held in May 2013 showed that there is a Catholic vote. Most winning candidates are Catholics or had been endorsed by the Catholic church.

The status of the Catholic church today in the Philippines is the one some Filipinos wanted it to be in 1872 yet . At that time, prominent Filipino priests like Gomez, Burgos and Zamora advocated the Filipinization of the clergy. Their clamor was that Filipino priests should take care of the Catholic parishes. For their advocacy, the three priests were guillotined by the Spaniards. The historical context then was that the Philippines was a colony of Spain.

Today, when the Philippines is already an independent nation, the clamor of the three priests has not been completely satisfied. True, the bishops and most of the parish priests are Filipinos. However, there are still priests of foreign nationalities manning parishes. There are Italians, Spaniards and Belgians. They are the favorites for kidnapping by Muslims in Mindanaw who still harbor the psyche of the crusades.

[The crusades were launched by popes for five centuries, about 1059 to 1520s, to recapture the holy land from the Muslims and for Christians to expiate their sins. It resulted in slaughter of thousands of Christians and Muslims. The crusades are one of the follies of mankind, according to Bernard Baruch, a Wall Street speculator and former chairman of the War Industries Board of the USA in WWI and of the Atomic Energy Commission after WWII in his book "My Public Years" published in 1960.]

True separation of state and church

The Catholic church in the Philippines is registered as a foreign corporation owned by the Vatican. The Philippines is divided into about 12 archdioceses each shepherded by an archbishop. All archbishops are appointed by the pope.

The temporal governance of the Catholic church in the Philippines is under the control of the pope.

This structure is shielded by the separation of the church and state so defined by the Catholic church. The folly of the Filipinos is that they have allowed the Catholic church to define the role of this church. They have not distinguished between temporal governance and religion.

The Philippine government should not mind if the Catholic church believed that Jesus Christ is god. But it belongs to government of the Philippines to mind the temporal governance of the Catholic church in the Philippines.

For one, the Catholic church should pay taxes.

The Catholic church should not repatriate profits to the Vatican. The current practice of remitting funds (alms, donations, profits) to the Vatican makes the Filipinos poorer. (I have a Hub "How the Catholic church makes the Filipinos poorer").

For another, the Catholic church should not be allowed to have landholdings in the Philippines. The constitution of the Philippines does not allow foreign nationals and corporations to have landholdings in the Philippines. Why should it not hold true for the Catholic church? The Catholic church has vast landholdings as granted by the Spanish king yet.

Catholic church buildings built by forced labor of Filipinos during the Spanish colonial era belong to the Filipinos, to the state of the Philippines, not to the Vatican.

The archbishops, bishops and parish priests should be voted upon by the laity and not appointed by the pope.

There are Catholics in China. However, they are not beholden to the pope. They are not governed by the pope. The Catholics in China do not have landholdings; the state owns all land in China.

Given that the pope governs matters of belief.

But temporal matters belong in the state.

We are aware of the superstructures that bind the Filipinos to subservience and poverty. They should be restructured.

Some facts in Philippine history

What is the status of the separation of church and state?

See results


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philippines

    travel_man1971 ,

    The priest has the face to say that the Catholic church owns the land! In fact, they don't own any. It is only for political opportunism, as you say, that politicians side with the church. The king of Spain no longer has authority over the Philippines and our forefathers liberated this country from Spain, and now we are an independent nation, therefore, the pieces of land awarded by the Spanish king no longer hold. I have a new Hub "Why Filipinos do not own the Philippines fully yet."

    I agree that streets and highways should be renamed, throwing away the Spanish and American names on them. We should give native names or terms derived from our languages or dialects, like Magat Salamat, Sagat, Narra, Diwata, Urduja, etc.

    I wish those occupying the church land did not move out from their positions. This kind of civil disobedience, or religious disobedience, could heighten the issue of who owns the land the Catholic church is occupying.

    Even the present redistribution of hacienda Luisita is unsatisfactory because not all of it is affected. Besides, the government is paying for the land, and farmers are either directly or indirectly paying for it. Was it not that the money under the custody of Gen. Antonio Luna that belonged to the Philippine revolutionary government was used in purchasing hacienda Luisita? When Gen. Luna went to Cabanatuan having been "called" to report by Gen. Aguinaldo, he left behind this money with his girlfriend in Tarlac. When Gen. Luna was assassinated in Cabanatuan, this money fell into the hands of his girlfriend whose family emerged as owner of this vast track of land - 64 square kilometers in all. This story was published in Asiaweek, written by Antonio Lopez.

  • travel_man1971 profile image

    Ireno Alcala 

    5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

    Ahh..what a sensible writing you have here, Sir Conrad. Modern feudalism at the present government setting of our country is still eminent.

    Talking about land distribution:

    Favoring huge landowners, even comprehensive agrarian reform is in effect, is still clouding the 'hope' of many tenant-farmers to own just a parcel of land.(I'd like to mention that the distribution of land titles are now being granted to Hacienda Luisita tenant-farmers).

    Now, the system of the Catholic church to own vast lands for construction of edifices should be intervened by the government (where opportunistic politicians are always acting as 'mediators' for the grievances being voiced out by tenant-farmers).

    I experienced a brush of intense grudge thrown to me by a local priest due to my covering a land dispute between a local church and the barangay council where it was located. I was accused of siding the residents by the church leader, where in fact, I was only presenting the issue (without exaggerating) en toto on air when I was still active in broadcast medium.

    Honestly, when you want to tell the truth here in our country, you are always accused of being the antagonist one.

    Naming places: I agree, we still live in colonial period at this point in time (2013) where most of the places are named after Spanish or American personages, where we can now claim it as our own (we are already independent)by renaming it with our local heroes.

    That way, we can modify and make our own history as truly Filipino. Huh, even our nationality is still after the name of a king of Spain. (Tsk!)

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philippines


    Thanks for the kind words. Incidentally, I wrote a brief biography of Teodoro A. Agoncillo, National Scientist in History, included in the book "Filipino National Scientists 1978-98" published in 2000. That reinforced my knowledge of our history I learned in Philippine history course in college. You have encouraged me to write a longer piece on the same theme.

  • jocent profile image


    5 years ago

    Wow....that was long!!! I never read long articles nowadays because of my fading eyesight, but nevertheless.....I was enticed by the informative features of your story. You made a quick and brief showcase of our history not only discussing the root problem but tackling the main issues regarding religion versus the government. I therefore salute you for a very good informative hub.....congratulations!!!


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