The U.S. And The Philippines: That Time We Were At War

Rodrigo Duterte, the current leader of the Philippines has burned countless calories since his election in 2016 talking smack about the United States. He’s made claims that the Philippines no longer needs the United States, and that they will build a relationship with China or Russia instead.


He’s also said that he cannot cut out the U.S., that his countrymen living the States would “kill him.” I think he was using a figure of speech.

We can’t tell if he likes Trump, and despite his one-time insistence that we quit all military detail in the country, he’s since reversed his position.

It’s hard to believe we used to be friends. If you look back far enough, we were once bitter enemies, at least for a few years. We even went to war.

While a war the Philippines sounds little like beating up a kid to our modern sensibilities, back in the turn of the century it was a necessary move. In light of the Spanish-American War, Spain had just turned over control of the islands to the United States.

Emilio Aguinaldo had other plans for the Pacific island nation.

Emilio Aguinaldo


To understand the war, you have to know Aguinaldo. When the Spanish occupied the Philippines, Aguinaldo led the resistance for the last two years.

When the United States got into a tussle with Spain in 1898, Aguinaldo preyed on the situation to beat the Spanish out of his country.

The people loved him so much, they made him the first president in 1899. That was the same year he took on the incoming United States forces.

To Aguinaldo, he was still fighting for Philippine independence. The United States saw the situation differently.

Concerned Public

(Major General Arthur MacArthur and officers | source:

The people of the Philippines had concerns about the occupation of their islands. For them, no time passed between the French and the Americans. People in the States worried about the situation too;  the U.S. becoming colonists.

In the wake of the Spanish-American War we had annexed Hawaii as a territory, but also took control of Guam, and Puerto Rico.

The public questioned the integrity of American values insomuch that we’d fought for our own independence a century before. On top of that, there were xenophobic fear of immigrants from these new territories.

The other side of the argument was that if we didn’t control these territories, then someone else might, someone who didn’t like us, someone with the ability to attack us. We had to have control of these strategic locations.

The Battle


Aguinaldo knew that we would bring the heat of war, but he had to lead his people. The first strike was a traditional war, out in the open, but that only lasted months.

When Aguinaldo’s troops started dropping he retreated into hiding, where they could engage in guerrilla warfare.

Make no mistake. This was over a hundred years ago, but the U.S. Army was formidable. Guerrilla warfare? We invented that stuff to send the British packing.

We were so tough, we’d beaten ourselves in the Civil War.

The war lasted only a couple of years. We captured Aguinaldo in 1901. By 1902, the resistance was over.



While the story of the war is short, the ramifications left dead on both sides. We lost about 4,200, but the Philippines lost 20,000 people.

They weren’t all army. The resistance spread beyond the troops. U.S. forces were not always civil, either. They burned villages, tortured suspected guerrillas and terrorized civilians.

The war spread disease, cholera and malaria. People went without food. Even for a war, it was ugly.

During Duterte’s first row with the United States he cited the atrocities of this war, events for which we’ve never apologized. At 71 years of age, Duterte isn’t old enough to remember the war, but his parents and grandparents would have.

This writer doubts Duterte actually cares about this piece of history. He just likes talking smack.