The Philippine Revolution

Truce of Biak-na-Bato and the Betrayal of the Revolution

The death of Bonifacio was a turning point in the Revolution. The stewardship of the Revolution was left to Aguinaldo and the elite. But the Filipinos and the Spaniards faced a long haul. Aguinaldo’s troops were being routed in Cavite and, thus, his revolutionary government moved to the more secluded Biak-na-Bato in Bulacan. At this time, Aguinaldo’s commitment to the revolutionary cause became suspect. His military advisers persuaded him to issue a declaration that his Biak-na-Bato government was willing to return to the fold of law as soon as Spain granted political reforms. These reforms included the expulsion of the hated Spanish friars and the return of lands they appropriated from the Filipinos; Filipino representation in the Spanish Cortes; freedom of the press and religious tolerance; equality in treatment and payment for both peninsular and insular civil servants; and equality for all before the law. This pronouncement by Aguinaldo proved that he and the ilustrados were willing to return to the Spanish fold provided there were reforms and the ilustrado interests were met.

The standoff in the battlefield prompted both sides to agree to an armistice. The Truce of Biak-na-Bato stipulated that Spain would pay financial remuneration to the Filipino revolutionaries in exchange for the surrender of arms and the voluntary exile abroad of Aguinaldo and the other leaders. Toward the end of December 1898, Aguinaldo and the other revolutionary leaders went into voluntary exile in Hong Kong and they were given the initial sum of 400,000 pesos, most of which were deposited in a Hongkong bank and used later on to purchase more weapons. Distrust on both sides resulted in the failure of the truce. Both sides were only biding time until they could launch another offensive.

The coming of the Americans marked the second phase of the Philippine Revolution. In Singapore, Aguinaldo met U.S. consul Spencer Pratt who persuaded him to cooperate with the Americans. In February 1898, the American warship Maine was mysteriously sunk in the waters of Havana, Cuba. This incident was the immediate cause of the Spanish-American War. Admiral George Dewey who was stationed in Hongkong received a cable on April 25 announcing that war had commenced between the two countries. He was ordered to retake the Philippines and, on May 1, 1898, his flagship U.S.S. Olympia defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay at a cost of eight wounded Americans and around five hundred casualties on the Spanish side. Back in Hongkong, Aguinaldo was told by U.S. consul Rounsenville Wildman that Dewey wanted him to return to the Philippines to resume the Filipino resistance. Aguinaldo claimed that the American officials prodded him to establish a Philippine government similar to the United States, and that they pledged to honor and support the Filipinos’ aspiration for independence. Spencer, Wildman, and Dewey would later deny having made any promise or commitment to Aguinaldo.