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Philippine-American Wars and Conflicts During the American Occupation of the Philippines



The Philippines is today a nation of several thousand islands in southeast Asia. For centuries, the islands were ruled by the Spanish. In the 1890s, Philippine nationalist forces launched a war of independence against the Spanish, and, by the Spring of 1898, had reduced Spanish rule to only the area around Manila, the capital city. The Army of the Philippine Republic had around 15,000 troops besieging several thousand Spanish troops in Manila, when, on May 1, 1898, an American naval force led by Commodore George Dewey, arrived and promptly destroyed the antiquated Spanish warships in the Battle of Manila Bay.


The United States had declared war on Spain on April 21, 1898, and Dewey, following orders sent by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, steamed from his anchorage at Hong Kong to Manila to attack the Spanish fleet there. At this point in time, the fear was that the Spanish ships could sail to the west coast of the U.S. and attack coastal cities there.


Dewey’s destruction of the Spanish fleet was a decisive victory, and soon American troops joined the Filipinos in besieging Manila. Under orders to take Manila, but not to let the Filipino forces into the city, the Americans made a secret deal with the Spanish commander. Per this deal, the Americans would launch an attack, the Spanish would then put up an intentionally weak defense-just enough to surrender with honor-and turn the city over to the Americans. The American attack began on August 13, 1898, and before the Filipino forces could respond, the Americans were in possession of the largest and most important city in the Philippines.


The Filipinos were very angry at this turn of events, and for the next several months, they reinforced their siege works around Manila as American reinforcements arrived in Manila. Tensions continued to increase, with both sides expecting a military conflict. On the night of February 4, 1899, a skirmish between Filipino and American forces broke out, resulting in fighting along the entire line around Manila. Having expected eventual hostilities, the U.S. military began a pre-planned offensive to drive the Filipinos away. Meanwhile, in the city, Filipino forces attempted to institute their planned uprising behind American lines, but this attack was quelled by American troops inside Manila.


This Battle of Manila began what would eventually become America’s longest military operation to that point in history, lasting some 14 years. What began as a conventional war between two established armies, would transition into a guerrilla campaign by the end of 1899. This phase of the war ended in 1902 with the capture of the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo, and the surrender of most of his followers.


The warfare would continue, however, as other rebellions and insurgencies broke out from time to time, including America’s longest conflict with a Muslim population prior to the War in Afghnaistan. The Muslims of the southern Philippine Islands were called Moros by the Spanish, who never really conquered these independent-minded Muslims, and the name was picked up by the Americans, who referred to their conflicts with Filipino Muslims as the Moro Wars.


Below is a list, with some details of the several conflicts that make up the wars between the Americans and the Filipino peoples from 1899-1913.


US Marines in the Philippines

US Marines in the Philippines

Philippine-American War (1899-1902)

The initial war against the forces of Philippine President Emilio Aguinldo, can be divided into two phases:


1. Philippine American War (Feb. to Dec. 1899)-conventional war between the United States and the Philippine Republic led by President Emilio Aguinaldo. In this phase of the conflict, the Filipino Army fought a conventional defensive conflict against the American Army, mostly on the large island of Luzon. After many defeats showed the Filipino leadership that they could not defeat the Americans in a conventional conflict, Aguinaldo reluctantly settled on a guerrilla campaign instead.


2. Philippine Insurgency and Pacification-(Dec 1899-July 4, 1902)-after Aguinaldo chose to continue the war as a guerrilla campaign, the U.S. Army went from conventional combat to counter-insurgency. This phase of the war involved many small unit actions, and also instituted the start of American recruitment of Filipinos into American-controlled constabulary and military forces.


After Aguinaldo was captured in a daring raid by General Frederick Funston on March 23, 1901, this phase of the war drew to a close. Aguinaldo, soon after his capture, pledged loyalty to the U.S. occupation, but other Filipino military leaders continued to fight for several more months before most of them surrendered.


The Philippine-American War formally ended by American President Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation of general amnesty on July 4, 1902, in which Roosevelt declared the war over.


After the end of major guerrilla fighting in Luzon and the other major islands, other outbreaks of war erupted and continued until 1913.


Tagalog Republic War (May 1902-July 20, 1906)-Led by Macario Sakay, an officer in the Filipino resistance to both the Spanish and the Americans, declared war in May of 1902, (this is after the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo) and declared himself president of what he called the “Tagalog Republic.” Sakay established his headquarters in the mountains of Rizal Province, to the east of Manila. He was convinced to surrender, and turned himself and his officers in to American authorities on July, 20, 1906. He was later tried and convicted of banditry, and executed in 1907.


Holy Church (Santa Iglesia) Insurgency (1903-1910)-One of Aguinaldo’s followers, Felipe Salvador (also known as Apo Ipe) led a messianic society known as Santa Iglesia or the Holy Church (also known as the Colorum). This group’s goal overthrow the American rule in the Philippines. The Holy Church waged a guerrilla war in the mountains of Luzon until Salvador’s capture in 1910. Unlike the Pulahans, Santa Iglesia avoided direct military confrontation, instead waging classic “little war” raids and ambushes against American authority and those Filipinos who collaborated with the Americans.



Pulahan War (1903-1907)-Largely fought in Leyte and Samar, the Pulahan war was a religious movement that fought the Americans. Pulahan is Tagalog for “wearer of red,” as the Pulahan fighters wore red clothing. The Spanish had fought against the Dios-Dios movement in Leyte and Samar, and many of the Filipino guerrilla fighters who surrendered to the Americans in 1901 and 1902 belonged to this messianic religious movement.


The guerrilla fighting and the pacification campaign by the American Army had been particularly savage in Samar, leaving many Filipinos dead or homeless. In addition, a deadly cholera epidemic had ravaged the population, in part due to the American policy of concentrating much of the population in controlled areas, thus increasing sanitation and hygiene issues which contributed to the easy spread of cholera, which killed thousands more in Samar and Leyte.

After several years of brutal guerrilla warfare, the Pulahan movement faded away after the death of the main Pulahan leader in 1907.



Colorum Uprising of 1924 (Dec. 27, 1923-October, 1924)-A religious sect similar to the Pulahans rose in rebellion in December of 1923 in Surigao, Samar, and Leyte. The conflict began with Colorum ambushes of Philippine Constabulary troops, and ended with the U.S. Army and the Philippine Constabulary burning rebel towns and capturing large numbers of rebels, including the leaders.


Encheradista Uprising of Florencio I (1927)-A Filipino peasant who dubbed himself Emperor Florencio I led his followers in a short uprising that lasted a couple of days. After he surrendered himself and spent the rest of his life insane asylum.


Filipino Scouts Mutiny (1924)-Brief mutiny by the Army’s Filipono Scouts over low pay.


Colorum Uprising of 1931 (January 11 and 12, 1931)- A very short-lived uprising by Colorum sect members who attacked a Philippine Constabulary barracks in the late evening/early morning of January 11, 1931. They engaged in a short battle with Filipino reinforcements, and were all either killed or captured.


Sakdal Uprising (May 2–3, 1935)-Brief peasant uprising in Central Luzon that claimed about a hundred lives.



Moro Wars (1902-1913)-While the United States military was dealing with the military forces of Aguinaldo’s Philippine Republic, the U.S. negotiated the Kiram-Bates Treaty, with the Sult

anate of Sulu, a Muslim region in the southern Philippine Islands. This agreement effectively functioned kept the Sulu Sultanate out of the war. One of the provisions of the Bates Treaty was allowing the Moros to keep their version of slavery.


After the quelling of the Filipino resistance in the northern parts of the Islands, the U.S. military arrived in force in the southern Philippines, and occupied old Spanish military installations. The military ignored most points of the Bates Treaty, including the provision allowing slavery. In response, local Moro forces began resisting American forces, launching raids and ambushes.



Hassan Uprising (October 1903 – March 1904)-Moro uprising led by Datu Hassan on the island of Jolo. The uprising ended with the death of Hassan at the First Battle of Bud Bagsak in March, 1904.


Sources on Philippine-American Wars and Conflicts:


"A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902" by David J. Silbey


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