After taking control of the Philippines in 1902, the United States did a great job in spreading US values among the Filipinos, assimilating them into American culture and promoting English as an official language, the effects of which can still be felt across the nation today.
During the colonial period, Washington succeeded in enhancing a sense of American identity among the Filipinos by copying the US democratic system and applying it to the Philippines.
For example, through US initiatives, between 1906 and 1907, members of the lower house of the Filipino Congress were elected through universal suffrage.
Then in 1916, the US Congress passed the Jones Act, requiring members of both houses in the Filipino Congress to be elected through open and competitive elections.
Today, many Filipinos are still grateful to the US for introducing democracy to their country, a monumental initiative which they believe set the nation on a course towards full-scale modernization and industrialization.
Besides, the US colonial authorities established a sound public healthcare system, which greatly improved the state of health of the average Filipino. Thanks to this healthcare system, the general life expectancy of the Filipinos almost hit the same level as continental Americans in the 1930s.
So, if the Filipinos were so content with their lives under American rule, why were they still seeking independence?
Well, there were two reasons.
One, during the Pacific war, Japanese invaders conquered the country in the name of liberalizing Asian people from western colonialism, a theme that struck a chord with a substantial number of Filipinos.
Second, US President Woodrow Wilson had himself promised Filipinos, as early as 1916, eventual independence.
Besides, independence appeared to be the only viable option for the Filipinos after World War II.
It is because unlike the tiny islands of Hawaii, there was no way Washington could ever absorb Philippines and turn it into another US state.
Among the key hurdles were the Philippines’ large population and the territory’s huge geographical distance from the US mainland.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 20
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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