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Emilio Aguinaldo: The Man Who Fought Three Empires

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Emilio Aguinaldo was an influential Filipino politician and military leader during the Philippine Revolution, fighting against three empires: Spain, America, and Japan in his pursuit of Philippine independence. As president of the First Philippine Republic he also became its sole leader.

Early Life and Education

Emilio Aguinaldo
Emilio Aguinaldo

 

Emilio Aguinaldo was born on March 22 in Cavite el Viejo (now Kawit), Cavite Province. He was one of eight children of Carlos Aguinaldo and Trinidad Famy; his father served as town head while his grandfather participated in the 1826 revolt against Spain as a general. Emilio attended Colegio San Juan de Letran in Manila to study Latin and philosophy; additionally he learned to play guitar and bandurria (stringed instrument).

Philippine Revolution Against Spain

Emilio Aguinaldo joined the Katipunan, a secret society that sought to overthrow Spanish colonial rule, in 1894 and quickly rose through its ranks to lead one of its two factions in Cavite: Magdalo faction. Aguinaldo led several successful battles against Spanish forces such as those at Imus, Binakayan Bridge and Zapote Bridge before eventually creating his revolutionary government at Tejeros in Cavite where he was eventually elected president on March 22, 1897.

Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and leader of Magdiwang faction. Following Bonifacio’s arrest and execution by Aguinaldo’s men on May 10, 1897 – leading to divisions among revolutionaries – Aguinaldo relocated his government to Biak-na-Bato, Bulacan where on December 14, 1897 they signed a peace treaty known as Pact of Biak-na-Bato which offered amnesty as well as compensation in return for exile to Hong Kong.

Philippine Independence and the Spanish-American War

While in exile, Aguinaldo continued his plans for resumption of the revolution while developing contacts with American officials who promised their support of Philippine independence. After returning home on May 19, 1898 after the Spanish-American War had broken out, he resumed leadership of the revolution and declared Philippine independence on June 12th 1898 in Kawit, Cavite; initially using dictatorial government before later replacing it with revolutionary government under himself as president; finally convening a congress in Malolos Bulacan which produced its constitution for First Philippine Republic.

Aguinaldo supported American forces after they defeated the Spanish navy at Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. He initially believed they would recognize Philippine independence and help drive out any remaining Spanish troops; but soon discovered their agenda of colonizing the Philippines was more pressing. Negotiations attempts failed, while American commanders refused to recognize his authority or recognize Aguinaldo’s authority over negotiations with American commanders; Aguinaldo protested against Spain-United States Treaty signed December 10, 1898 that ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam all for $20 Million!

Philippine-American War

On February 4, 1899, following an incident wherein a Filipino soldier was shot by an American sentry in Manila, Aguinaldo declared war against the United States and led his forces in guerrilla warfare for over three years against them. While doing this he issued decrees and proclamations rallying the people to fight for freedom despite obstacles such as lack of arms and ammunition for use against defection of generals and propaganda campaigns from Americans as well as outbreak of diseases like cholera and malaria among his troops as well as civilians alike.

On March 23, 1901, Aguinaldo was captured by American forces after one of his officers betrayed him. He was brought to Manila where he pledged allegiance to the US and issued a proclamation calling for an end of resistance activities. Later allowed to leave Manila for Hong Kong until 1903 where he lived as an exile before returning home and settling his ancestral home in Kawit, Cavite.

Late Life and Legacy

Aguinaldo eventually retired from public life for some time, though he remained involved with various civic and patriotic organizations. He wrote his memoirs which were published in 1899, ran in the 1935 Philippine Commonwealth elections but lost to Manuel L. Quezon, supported the Japanese occupation during World War II as an advisor of their puppet government, later regretting this act and offering an apology to Filipino people; furthermore cooperating with American forces during liberation efforts in 1945 and 1946;

On February 6, 1964 at age 94, Aguinaldo died of a heart attack due to heart disease. Although initially buried at Manila North Cemetery, his remains were later transferred to his house in Kawit, Cavite – now recognized as a national shrine – where they remain today. Aguinaldo remains one of the national heroes of the Philippines with his birthday celebrated annually as a national holiday and his contributions towards revolution, Republic and flag are remembered fondly.

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