Revolutionary Heroes of the Philippines

Spanish conquistadors reached the islands of the Philippines in 1521. They named the country after King Philip II of Spain in 1543, pressing to colonize the archipelago despite such setbacks as the 1521 death of Ferdinand Magellan, killed in battle by Lapu-Lapu's troops on Mactan Island.

From 1565 to 1821, the Viceroyalty of New Spain ruled the Philippines from Mexico City. In 1821, Mexico became independent, and Spain's government in Madrid took direct control of the Philippines.

During the period between 1821 and 1900, Filipino nationalism took root and grew into an active anti-imperial revolution. When the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Philippines did not gain its independence but instead became an American possession. As a result, the guerrilla war against foreign imperialism simply changed the target of its fury from Spanish rule to American rule.

Three key leaders inspired or led the Filipino Independence movement. The first two - Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio - would give their young lives for the cause. The third, Emilio Aguinaldo, not only survived to become the first president of the Philippines but also lived on into his mid-90s.

Jose Rizal

Jose Rizal
Via Wikipedia

Jose Rizal was a brilliant and multi-talented man. He was a doctor, a novelist, and the founder of La Liga, a peaceful anti-colonial pressure group that met just one time in 1892 before the Spanish authorities arrested Rizal.

Jose Rizal inspired his followers, including the fiery rebel Andres Bonifacio, who attended that single original La Liga meeting and reestablished the group after Rizal's arrest. Bonifacio and two associates also tried to rescue Rizal from a Spanish ship in Manila Harbor in the summer of 1896. By December, however, the 35-year-old Rizal was tried in a sham military tribunal and executed by a Spanish firing squad.

Andres Bonifacio

Andres Bonifacio
via Wikipedia

Andres Bonifacio, from an impoverished lower-middle-class family in Manila, joined Jose Rizal's peaceful La Liga group but also believed that the Spanish had to be driven from the Philippines by force. He founded the Katipunan rebel group, which declared independence from Spain in 1896 and surrounded Manila with guerrilla fighters.

Bonifacio was instrumental in organizing and energizing the opposition to Spanish rule. He declared himself president of the newly independent Philippines, although his claim was not recognized by any other country. In fact, even other Filipino rebels challenged Bonifacio's right to the presidency, since the young leader did not have a university degree.

Just one year after the Katipunan movement began its revolt, Andres Bonifacio was executed at the age of 34 by a fellow rebel, Emilio Aguinaldo.

Emilio Aguinaldo

Photo from about 1900 of Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines' first president
Fotosearch Archive / Getty Images

Emilio Aguinaldo's family was relatively wealthy and held political power in the city of Cavite, on a narrow peninsula that juts out into Manila Bay. Aguinaldo's comparatively privileged situation afforded him the opportunity to get a good education, just as Jose Rizal had done.

Aguinaldo joined Andres Bonifacio's Katipunan movement in 1894 and became general of the Cavite area when open war broke out in 1896. He had better military success than Bonifacio and looked down upon the self-appointed president for his lack of education.

This tension came to a head when Aguinaldo rigged elections and declared himself president in place of Bonifacio. By the end of that same year, Aguinaldo would have Bonifacio executed after a sham trial.

Aguinaldo went into exile in late 1897, after surrendering to the Spanish, but was brought back to the Philippines by American forces in 1898 to join in the fight that ousted Spain after almost four centuries. Aguinaldo was recognized as the first president of the independent Republic of the Philippines but was forced back into the mountains as a rebel leader once more when the Filipino-American War broke out in 1901.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Revolutionary Heroes of the Philippines." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2020, August 25). Revolutionary Heroes of the Philippines. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Revolutionary Heroes of the Philippines." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).