A Trilogy of Wars: The Philippine Revolutionary Wars of 1896-97, the Spanish-American War in the Philippines in 1898, and the Filipino-American War, 1899-1902 (Book Review)

6/12/2006 • Battle of Manila, Book Reviews

Reviewed by Glenn Barnett
By Marconi M. Dioso
Dorrance Publishing, Pittsburgh, Pa., 2004

In 1898 U.S. Navy Rear Admiral George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay and fired off a few shots at the Spanish fleet. Spain promptly surrendered and sold her colonial possession of the Philippines to the United States. That, at least, is how American history books tell it.

There is a lot more to the story. A Trilogy of Wars, by Marconi M. Dioso, is an in-depth exploration of the momentous events in the Philippines between 1896 and 1902, when the people rose up against their foreign occupiers–first the Spanish and then the Americans. Trilogy begins by briefly sketching the 3 ½ centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippine archipelago. During that time the Spanish had to stave off invasions by the Chinese, the Dutch and the English and suppress periodic uprisings by the Filipinos themselves.

The rebellion of 1896 began with intellectual and, surprisingly, Masonic influences. Rebels organized themselves into secret cells and recruited the peasantry before exploding into violence. The underlying causes of the uprising were similar to tensions leading up to indigenous rebellions throughout the colonial world. The people were second-class citizens in their own country. Career options were limited, and the colonial masters practiced rampant racism. In addition, the Philippine people had become devoutly Catholic, but the priesthood was denied them. Spanish priests, who often served as auxiliaries in the Spanish military, ruled their parishes like feudal fiefdoms and their parishioners like serfs.

No sooner had the Spanish crushed the Philippine rebellion and exiled its leaders than Admiral Dewey showed up to rekindle hostilities. The Americans unleashed the Philippine patriots on the Spanish, but they proved too successful in taking over the countryside, and threatened to form their own independent government.

Philippine independence was not part of the American plan. President William McKinley even thought of selling the islands to another European power. The new occupiers soon found themselves at war with the Filipino Republicans. The U.S. military employed more than 69,000 troops backed by modern cannons and Gatling guns against its adversaries. They demonstrated an unflinching willingness to kill suspected enemy fighters, burn villages and food stocks and conduct a brutally effective counterinsurgency.

Dioso relates the story of the six-year insurrection with mind-numbing thoroughness. Each battle, siege and raid is described. The reader learns about homemade weapons, guns captured, huts burned, rivers forded and casualty lists. Nevertheless, the author’s gift as a writer (his narrative style resembles that of Shelby Foote) holds the attention of the reader through the jungle of minutia. While Trilogy is burdened with incessant detail, it is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in the events that shaped Philippine independence.