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By the victory of our fleet at Manila Bay, one more of the world's sidetracked capitals has been pulled from obscurity into main lines of prominence and the average citizen is no longer left, as in days gone by, to suppose that Manila is spelt with two l's and is floating around in South Sea somewhere Fiji and Patagonia. The Philippines have been discovered, and the daily journals with their cheap maps have at last located Spain's Havana in the Far East. It is indeed curious that a city of a third of a million people -- capital of a group of islands as large as New England, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, which have long furnished the whole world with its entire supply of Manila hemp, which have exported some 160,000 tons of sugar in a single year and which today produce as excellent tobacco as that coming from the West Indies -- it is curious, I say, that a city of this size should have gone so long unnoticed and mis-spelt. But such has been the case, and until Admiral Dewey fired the shots that made Manila heard round the world, the people of these United States -- with but few exemptions -- lived and died without knowing where the stuff in their clothes lines came from.
Now that the Philippines are ours, do we want them? Can we run them? Are they the long-looked-for El Dorado which those who have never been there suppose? To all of which questions -- even at the risk of being called unpatriotic -- I am inclined to answer, No.
Do we want them? Do we want a group of 1,400 islands, nearly 8,000 miles from our western shores, sweltering in the tropics, swept with typhoons and shaken with earthquakes? Do we want to undertake the responsibility of protecting those islands from the powers in Europe or the East, and or standing sponsor for the nearly 8,000,000 native inhabitants that speak a score of different tongues and live on anything from rice to stewed grasshoppers? Do we want the task of civilizing this race, of opening up the jungles, of setting up officials in frontier, out-of-the-way towns who won't have been there a month before they will wish to return?
Do we want them? No. Why? Because we have got enough to look after at home. Because -- unlike the Englishman or the German who, early realizing that this country is too small to support him, grows up with the feeling that he must relieve the burden by going to the uttermost parts of the sea -- our young men have room enough at home in which to exert their best energies without going eight or eleven thousand miles across land and water to tropic islands in the Far East.
Can we run them? The Philippines are hard material with which to make our first colonial experiment, and seem to demand a different sort of treatment from that which our national policy favors or has had experience in giving. Besides the peaceable natives occupying the accessible towns, the interiors of many of the islands are filled with aboriginal savages who have never even recognized the rule of Spain -- who have never even heard of Spain, and who still think they are possessors of the soil. Even on the coast itself are tribes of savages who are almost as ignorant as their brethren in the interior, and only thirty miles from Manila are races of dwarfs that go without clothes, wear knee bracelets of horse hair, and respect nothing save the jungle in which they live. To the north are the Igorrotes, to the south the Moros, and in between, scores of wild tribes that are ready to dispute possession. And is the United States prepared to maintain the forces and carry on the military operations in the fever-stricken jungles necessary in the march of progress to exterminate or civilize such races? Have we, like England for instance, the class of troops who could undertake that sort of work, and do we feel called upon to do it, when the same expenditures at home would go so much further? The Philippines must be run under a despotic though kindly form of government, supported by arms and armor-clads, and to deal with the perplexing questions and perplexing difficulties that arise, needs knowledge gained by experience, having dealt with other such problems before.
Are the Philippines an El Dorado? Like Borneo, like Java and the Spice Islands, the Philippines are rich in natural resources, but their capacity to yield more than the ordinary remuneration to labor I much question. Leaving aside the question of gold and coal, and the working of which, so far, more money has been put into the ground than has ever been taken out, the great crops in these islands are sugar, hemp, and tobacco. The sugar crop, to be sure, has the possibilities that it has anywhere, where the soil is rich and the conditions favorable. The tobacco industry has perhaps more possibilities, and might be made a close rival to that in Cuba. But the hemp crop is limited by the world's needs, and as those needs are just so much each year, there is no object in increasing a supply which up to date has been adequate. There are foreigners in the Philippines who have been there for years, who have controlled the export of sugar or hemp or tobacco, who have made their living, and who from having been longer on the ground should be the first to improve the opportunities that may come with the downfall of Spanish rule. There are some things that the United States can send to the Philippines cheaper than the Continental manufacturers, but not many. She can send flour and some kinds of machinery, she can put in the electric plants, she can build railways, but at present she can't produce the cheap implements, and the necessaries required by the great bulk of poor natives at the low price which England and Germany can.
The Philippines are not an El Dorado simply because for the first time they have been brought to our notice. They should not yield more than the ordinary return to labor, and the question is, does the average American want to live in a distant land, cut off from friends and a civilized climate, only to get the ordinary return for his efforts? To which, even though of course there is much to be said on the other side, I would answer, No. We have gone to war, remembering the Maine, to free Cuba, and at the first blow have taken another group of islands -- a Cuba in the East -- to deal with. I have not the space here to discuss the solution of the problems, but, for my part, I should like to see England interested in buying back an archipelago which she formerly held for ransom, leaving us perhaps a coaling port, and opening up the country to such as chose to go there. Then, with someone else to shoulder the burden of government and protection, we should still have the opportunities for providing whether or not the islands were the El Dorado dreamed of in our clubs or counting rooms.
At the close of 1893, I went to Manila for Messrs. Henry W. Peabody and Co., of Boston and New York, in the interest of their hemp business, and, associated with Mr. A. H. Rand, remained there for two years. We two were the representatives of the only American house doing business in the Philippines and made up practically fifty per cent of the American business colony in Manila. The years from 1894 to 1896 were peculiarly peaceful with a quiet coming before the storm, and we were fortunate enough to be able to make many excursions and go into many parts of the islands that later would have been dangerous. But as the short term of our service drew to a close, rumors of trouble began to circulate. The natives had long suffered from the demands made by the Church and the tax gatherer, and there was a feeling that they might again attempt to throw off the Spanish yoke, as they attempted, without success, some years before. It was at this period that Messrs. Peabody and Co. decided it would be to their unquestionable advantage to retire from the islands and to place their business in the hands of an English firm, long established on the ground and well equipped with men who, unlike ourselves, looked forward to passing the rest of their days in the Philippines. And the move was a good one, for no sooner had we left Manila than revolution broke out. The Spanish troops were at the south, and that mysterious native brotherhood of the Katipunan called its members to attack the capital. A massacre was planned, but the right leaders were lacking and the attempt failed. The troops were recalled, guards doubled, drawbridges into old Manila pulled up nightly, arrests and executions made. As is well known, one hundred suspects were crowded into that old dungeon on the river, just at the corner of the city wall, and because it came on to rain at nightfall, an officer shut down the trapdoor leading to the prisoners' cells to keep out the water. But it also kept out the air, and next morning sixty out of the one hundred persons were suffocated. Then Manila had her Black Hole. Later, other suspects were stood on the curbing that surrounds the Luneta and were shot down while the big artillery band discoursed patriotic music to the crowds that thronged the promenade. And from then until Admiral Dewey silenced the guns at Cavite and sank the Spanish ships that used to swing peacefully at anchor off the breakwater, the Spaniards had their hands full with a revolution brought on by their own rotten system of government.
If in place of the more systematic narratives of descriptions, the more serious presentations of statistics, or the more exciting accounts of the bloody months of the revolution and the wonderful victory of our gallant fleet, which are to be looked for from other sources, the reader cares to get some idea of casual life in Manila, by accepting the rather colloquial chronicle of an ex-resident that follows, I shall have made some little return to islands that robbed me of little else than two years of a more hurried existence in State Street or Broadway.
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