What happened when Spain signed away the Philippines to the United States? Hardly anyone has asked the question. Tradition says that the Philippines, distinguished for its Hispanic-Christian lifestyle for more than 300 years, was “Americanized” overnight—supposedly, because the Filipinos felt their political dreams would come true with the American policy of “benevolent assimilation” and promise of eventual political independence. But at a recent seminar in Barcelona to analyze the transfer of sovereignty over the Philippines at the end of the Spanish–American War, ten scholars offered a more balanced view of its immediate effects. As the title of the book indicates, this is the purpose of this collection of lectures now offered as a book.
Two introductory essays by the two editors of the book prepare the reader for seven essays grouped into four parts analyzing the situation after Spain lost the Philippines: (a) “Political Models”; (b) “Continuity and Break”; (c) “Viewing from the Outside”; and (d) “The Spaniards Faced with the Transition.”
In his essay, Reynaldo Ileto suggests that the Rizal Law of 1956 hoped to revive the Spanish epoch that was “forcibly erased” (relegó con fuerza) from the people’s memory. Obliging students to read the true version of Rizal’s two novels, the proponents of the law believed, would help mitigate the [End Page 555] exaggerated attention to the first ten years of Philippine independence. Ileto also suggests that Taft, the first American civil governor of the Philippines, presented Rizal as a national hero in order to win the goodwill of Filipinos and support the government program during his term (58). Taft, however, seems to have conveniently overlooked that, before him, on 30 December 1897, the first anniversary of Rizal’s execution, the Filipinos in Hong Kong had already honored him as their national hero. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, Rizal was not necessarily the inspiration that energized the Filipinos to resist their aggressors.
In his essay “Vías hacia la modernidad: Migraciones laborales . . .” written by Filomeno Aguilar, it can be inferred that Filipinos searched for a better life without necessarily drawing inspiration from Rizal. In the last century, thousands of Filipinos left home to find work abroad, many of them opting to remain as overseas workers and not return home. And yet, they remained as Filipino as ever, they loved their country just as much as those who stayed behind, and their lives reflected the culture that identified them as Filipinos.
Resil Mojares rightly describes the travels of Mariano Ponce throughout Southeast Asia in search of a political ideal for his country. But Ponce never really saw what he wanted. As Mojares indicates, he was a “dreaming Filipino politician” (imaginario politico filipino, 79).
Paul Kramer analyzes how the United States adopted much of Spain’s colonial policies, mainly through initiatives of the ilustrados, the Filipino elite who immediately supported the new American government. A novice in colonial rule, and with rather inadequate traditions to introduce, the Washington government “forced” itself on the Philippines, while Spanish practices in the Philippines remained intact (129). The United States did not know what they had received from Spain, and they necessarily turned to Spanish guidelines that had made the Philippines what it was.
One of the more notable contributions to this collection of studies is by the coeditor of the book, Josep M. Delgado, a leading Philippine historian teaching at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). He shows that the democratic policy of freedom of conscience and religion allowed non-Catholic religious beliefs in the Philippines. But the new religious leaders failed to win over the majority of the Catholic population. Despite the strong nationalistic tones of independence from Rome and the use of indigenous external rites and liturgical symbols by the schismatic “Philippine [End Page 556] Independent Church” that Isabelo de los Reyes had founded, it remained a minority sect. Perhaps more importantly, Delgado explains that the effort to settle the widely publicized problem of the friar lands was badly handled by the new government officials. Anti-Catholic Filipino propagandists and...