After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
The war was brutal on both sides. U.S. forces at times burned villages, implemented civilian reconcentration policies, and employed torture on suspected guerrillas, while Filipino fighters also tortured captured soldiers and terrorized civilians who cooperated with American forces. Many civilians died during the conflict as a result of the fighting, cholera and malaria epidemics, and food shortages caused by several agricultural catastrophes.
In 1907, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, and in 1916, the Jones Act promised the nation eventual independence. The archipelago became an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, and the U.S. granted independence in 1946.
The State Department’s historical site does not have an entry on the Balangiga Massacre. The U.S. History Scene has a piece on Remembering Balangiga and The War in the Philippines. It notes that the Philippine-American War lasted from 1899-1902 and that of the 126,468 American soldiers deployed to the Philippines—4,234 did not survive. An estimated 16,000 to 20,000 Filipino soldiers died, along with 200,000 civilians. Excerpt:
The American people were horrified when they heard that almost an entire company of men had been cut down by savage Filipino attackers. The Evening World claimed, “The slaughter is the most overwhelming defeat that American arms have encountered in the Orient.” They painted a gruesome picture: “so sudden and unexpected was the onslaught and so well hemmed in were they by the barbarians that the spot became a slaughter-pen for the little band of Americans.” It reignited support for war in the Philippines. The idea that Filipinos would hack a harmless company of men to death during breakfast reinforced the idea in the American consciousness that Filipinos were brutal, savage people. It reinforced the idea that Filipinos needed American colonialism in order to become civilized.
The Balangiga massacre gave officers the justification to pursue harsher methods. General Jacob H. Smith led the charge in Samar. He gave the following instructions: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” Major Littleton Waller asked to know the age limit, and Smith replied “Ten years.” These orders were immortalized in a cartoonin the New York Journal whose caption read: “Kill Every One Over Ten: Criminals because they were born ten years before we took the Philippines.” Smith asked his men to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness,” and they obliged.
Over the next year, the US Army practiced a scorched earth policy on Samar. They trudged through dangerous jungles, burning towns, taking food, and either killing the people or taking them to coastal villages for internment. Thousands of Filipinos, mostly noncombatants, were killed during the Samar campaign. It became the most gruesome campaign of the entire Philippine-American War.
For the people who lived there, it was not the events of September 28, 1901, but what came after that was the true Balangiga “massacre.” Before leaving the island, American troops revisited Balangiga, where it all began. They took the church bells that signaled the attack on that day and sent them back to the United States as war trophies, where they still reside to this day.
Read in full here.