The Philippines During the American Regime

The Philippines During the American Regime

By Apolinario Villalobos

With the downfall of the short-lived First Philippine Republic under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the Americans took over to directly rule the archipelago using the governance known as “Insular System”, guided by what were contained in the report of the Schurman Commission in 1899.

Appointments to the public offices were made based on the result of civil service examination taken by aspirants, and not on the basis of family relationship and friendship. Taxes were paid by the “citizens” to the government and in return, they received benefits in many forms. Educational system was initially implemented through the “Thomasites”, the first group of American teachers who were also Protestant evangelists. (Much later, the group was supplanted by the “Peace Corp Volunteers”).

The traditional units of government were maintained, although, their heads were given different references. For the village or barrio, the former “cabeza de barangay” or “teniente del barrio” of the Spanish time, was replaced by the municipal councilor. The “gobernadorcillo” as head of the town was replaced by the “president”. And, on provincial level, the head retained the same title as “provincial governor”.

The Provincial Court was referred to as the Court of First Instance, headed by a Judge, and appointed by the American Governor General. The central or national government was called “Insular Government”, which initially was controlled by a Commission headed by the Governor General. In 1907, however, the Philippine Assembly was created to help the Commission in making laws. It was composed of Filipinos elected by the people. Nine years later, in 1916, the Legislature, composed of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, was created and empowered with the formulation of laws. The members of the two houses were elected by the people.

The highest court of justice during the Spanish time, the “Audiencia”, became the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands, with Americans as majority of its justices, although, the Head was always a Filipino. All of the justices were appointed by the US President.

Personal rights which had been the focus of the Filipino demands during the Spanish regime, were finally, granted by President McKinley in 1900, and later, officially contained in two Acts of the US Congress. These were the Organic Act of July 1, 1902 and the Autonomous Act or Jones Law of August 29, 1916. The Bill of Rights for the Filipinos enacted by the US Congress was very similar to the principles contained in the Malolos Constitution adopted in 1898, under the First Republic, at the helm of which was Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Unfortunately, what has been initially formulated as an ideal Philippine Constitution was stained by the Parity Rights, insisted on by the United States, giving equal rights to the Americans in the exploitation of natural resources and in all other opportunities in the whole country. The insertion was made during the Administration of President Manuel Roxas in 1947.

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