A Valiant People's Army

 Vigilant: Sentries protect the path to Filipino positions. (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Vigilant: Sentries protect the path to Filipino positions. (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Oftentimes, to remember Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 is to engage in contentious debate: Was the independence declared by President Emilio Aguinaldo truly a national call for sovereignty or just a tactical ploy against impending American occupation? How could Aguinaldo, who came from Cavite’s elite and who was accused of having ordered the execution of national hero Andres Bonifacio, have been the rightful leader of the fledgling nation? How could independence have rung true when the phrase “under the guidance of the mighty North American nation...” had been inserted in the independence document?
 On Guard: Gregorio Del Pilar inspecting his troops (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

On Guard: Gregorio Del Pilar inspecting his troops (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

What is forgotten in the never-ending debate is that eight months after that fateful day, the Philippine-American War commenced to alter the course of Philippine history. Why we, 2.2 million Filipinos, are in this country today is rooted in this war. Censored news dispatches initially gave Americans the image that the faraway “insurrection” (the newspeak the U.S. used to avoid depicting the Philippines as an independent nation) was confined to a ragtag army led by a tinhorn despot.


Many Filipinos are not even aware that they once had a patriotic army that waged guerrilla warfare against a stronger American force, that inflicted over 2,300 casualties and cost Washington over $100 million dollars a year, a significant sum for that period.

 Firing Line: U.S. detachment firing at Filipino forces across the Pasig River near Santa Ana, Manila (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Firing Line: U.S. detachment firing at Filipino forces across the Pasig River near Santa Ana, Manila (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Ragtag it was, but this same army unremittingly fought 200,000 American soldiers, three-fourths of the American Army, from 1899-1902. (Many historians would also argue as to the war’s end since at one point, any Filipino resistance was considered banditry, and Moro resistance to American colonialism continued even after the Philippine Commonwealth was established in 1935.) As to the “insurrectos,” few Americans ever saw what these Filipino soldiers really looked like. They were caricatured as unruly little savages, loin-clothed and deserving of punishment.  

 Martyrdom: Filipino revolutionaries hanging from American gallows (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Martyrdom: Filipino revolutionaries hanging from American gallows (Photos from the collection of Jonathan Best and John L. Silva)

Many Filipinos are not even aware that they once had a patriotic army that waged guerrilla warfare against a stronger American force, that inflicted over 2,300 casualties and cost Washington over $100 million dollars a year, a significant sum for that period.

The following rare photographs from the collection of Jonathan Best and the author to memorialize a people’s army that fought and bled for Philippine independence.

First published in Filipinas Magazine, June 1994


 John L. Silva

John L. Silva

John L. Silva (jsilva79@mac.com) is an author and a contributing writer.