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Sovereignty of the Philippines

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The Sovereignty of the Philippines refers to the status of the Philippines as an independent nation. This article covers sovereignty transitions relating to the Philippines, with particular emphasis on the passing of sovereignty from Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1898), signed on December 10, 1898 to end the Spanish–American War.


President of the United States William McKinley asserted U.S. sovereignty over the Philippines on December 21, 1898 in his Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation.

In March 1897 Emilio Aguinaldo, a leader of the Katipunan, had been elected President of a revolutionary government at the Tejeros Convention. That government had been meant to replace the Katipunan, though the latter was not formally abolished until 1899. Aguinaldo was again elected President at Biak-na-Bato in November 1897, leading the Biak-na-Bato Republic. Exiled in Hong Kong after the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, he returned to the Philippines to renew revolutionary activities with the advent of the Spanish–American War and, in May 1898, formed a dictatorial government. In June 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed independence from Spanish sovereignty and transformed his dictatorial government into a revolutionary government. On January 22, 1899 (subsequent to the signing of the Treaty of Paris) Aguinaldo's government was constituted by the Malolos Congress and is called the Malolos Republic as well as the First Philippine Republic (Spanish: Republica Filipina). Aguinaldo was again elected president in January 1899, and attempted unsuccessfully to persuade other countries to recognize his nascent government. Following the outbreak of general hostilities between U.S. and Filipino forces in February 1899, the Philippine–American War ensued. Aguinaldo's government effectively ceased to exist on April 1, 1901, when he pledged allegiance to the United States after being captured by U.S. forces in March of that year.

The Philippines continued as a U.S. territory until July 4, 1946, when the U.S. relinquished sovereignty and recognized the independence of the Republic of the Philippines. The current Philippine government considers Emilio Aguinaldo to have been the first President of the Philippines and considers the Malolos Republic as the "First" Philippine Republic.


Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided.

A sovereign state is a political association with effective internal and external sovereignty over a geographic area and population which is not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state.

As a practical matter, the question of sovereignty for the Philippines did not arise until near the end of the 19th century. The constitutive theory of statehood was developed in the 19th century to define what is and is not a state. With this theory, statehood depends on an entity's recognition by other countries.

Early contact

Although they were not the first Europeans in the Philippines, the first well documented arrival of western Europeans in the archipelago was the Spanish expedition led by Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan, which first sighted the mountains of Samar at dawn on 16 March 1521 (Spanish calendar). Magellan sought friendship among the natives beginning with Humabon, the chieftain of Sugbu (now Cebu), and took special pride in converting them to Catholicism. His involvement with the native tribes eventually led to his death on 27 April 1521 in the Battle of Mactan. After Magellan's voyage, subsequent Spanish expeditions were dispatched to the islands and, in 1543, Ruy López de Villalobos named the islands of Leyte and Samar Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II of Spain. The single surviving vessel from Magellan's fleet, the Victoria, returned to Spain in 1522, after which Spain claimed dominion over the Philippine archipelago on the basis of discovery, a valid mode of acquisition at the time.

Spanish conquest

On April 27, 1565, Spanish Conquistadores attacked the defiant Rajah Tupas, who had succeeded Rajah Humabon as king of Cebu. Tupas was defeated and made to sign an agreement after his defeat, effectively placing the Philippines under Spain. On February 8, 1597, King Philip II, near the end of his 42-year reign, issued a Royal Cedula instructing to Francisco de Tello de Guzmán, then Governor-General of the Philippines in severe terms to fulfill the laws of tributes and to provide for restitution of ill-gotten taxes imposed on the natives. The Cedula also decreed an undertaking by which the natives (referred to as Indians), "... freely render to me submission." The decree was published in Manila on August 5, 1598. King Philip died on 13 September, just forty days after the publication of the decree, but his death was not known in the Philippines until middle of 1599, by which time a referendum by which the natives would acknowledge Spanish rule was underway. With the completion of the Philippine referendum of 1599, Spain could be said to have established legitimate sovereignty over the Philippines.

Spanish rule

During Spain's 333 year rule in the Philippines, the colonists had to fight off the Chinese pirates (who lay siege to Manila, the most famous of which was Limahong in 1574), Dutch forces, and Portuguese forces. Moros from western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago constantly raided the coastal Christian areas of Luzon and the Visayas and occasionally brought home loot and fair women. They often sold their captives as slaves. A British conquest of the Spanish Philippines occurred during the Seven Years' War, with British occupation of the capital between 1762 and 1764. Also, there were a number of failed Philippine revolts during Spanish rule.

The Katipunan

On July 7, 1892, the Filipino writer José Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, Andrés Bonifacio, Teodoro Plata, Ladislao Diwa, and others founded the Katipunan, a secret organization opposed to Spanish rule. Its discovery in 1896 by the Spanish colonial government led to the outbreak of Philippine Revolution.

An article on the website of the Philippine Government's National Commission for Culture and the Arts asserts that the Katipunan became an "open de facto government" on 24 August 1896. Emilio Aguinaldo wrote that the Cabinet conferred on Bonifacio the title Haring Bayan (Sovereign). Filipino historian Gregario Zaide also wrote that the Katipunan was a government by itself. However, the Katipunan were not recognized by other countries as the legitimate government of the Philippines.

At the Tejeros Convention held by the Katipunan on March 22, 1897, Emilio Aguinaldo was elected to the office of President. Bonifacio, as chairman of the convention and Supremo if the Katipunan, voided the convention proceedings, but Aguinaldo (who had not been present at the convention) took his oath of office as President the next day in Santa Cruz de Malabon (present-day Tanza) in Cavite. On November 1, 1897, a constitution written by Felix Ferrer and Isabelo Archero established the Republic of Biak-na-Bato, with Aguinaldo as President.

On December 14–15, 1897, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato suspended the revolution, with Aguinaldo and other Katipunan leaders agreeing to go into voluntary exile abroad. General Francisco Makabulos of Tarlac, a Katipunan leader who did not go into exile, established the Central Executive Committee, which was intended to be a provisional government "until a general government in these islands shall again be established." This rebel government had a constitution, popularly called the constitution of Makabulos, which provided for an executive committee composed of a President, Vice President and Secretary of the Interior.

American hostilities, Aguinaldo's return, Dictatorial government

After the Philippines became a theater of operations in the Spanish–American War, with hostilities commencing on May 1, 1898 with the Battle of Manila Bay, Aguinaldo and others returned from exile to the Philippines in order to resume their revolution against the Spanish colonial government. On May 24, in the wake of his military victories, Aguinaldo announced that he was assuming "command of all the troops in the struggle for the attainment of our lofty aspirations, inaugurating a dictatorial government to be administered by decrees promulgated under my sole responsibility..." and issued a decree formally establishing a Dictatorial Government. This was done under the authority of the Biak-na-Bato republic, nullifying orders issued prior to the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato and asserting that the Dictatorial Government was temporary in nature, "... so that, when peace shall have been reestablished and our legitimate aspiration for unrestricted liberty attained, it may be modified by the nation, in which rests the principle of authority."

Philippine declaration of independence, Revolutionary government

On June 12, 1898, the Philippine Declaration of Independence was proclaimed at an event led by Emilio Aguinaldo in his mansion in Kawit, Cavite (this proclamation did not address the de jure status of the Spanish colonial government, which continued to exist under the Spanish national government then embroiled in the Spanish–American War).

On June 23, Aguinaldo issued a decree replacing the Dictatorial Government with a Revolutionary Government.

Peace protocol, U.S. military government, Treaty of Paris

On July 24, 1898, the Spanish Peninsular Government had replaced Governor-General Basilio Augustín with Fermín Jáudens (acting). On August 13, 1898, Jáudens was replaced by Francisco Rizzo (acting), who was replaced in September 1898 by Diego de los Ríos (acting). On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a peace protocol had been signed in Washington, D.C. between Spain and the United States on the previous day, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish. The next day, August 14, the U.S. established a military government in the Philippines, with Major General Wesley Merritt as the first military governor. General Merritt received news of the August 12 peace protocol on August 16, three days after the surrender of Manila. In early December 1898, General Rios moved the Spanish Philippine capital from Manila to Iloilo. On December 24, Rios and the Spanish garrison departed Iloilo after being driven out by local revolutionaries. By December 28, Spanish troops had evacuated all garrisons in the south Philippines except Zamboanga and Jolo. Initially, Rios relocated the Spanish capital to Zamboanga, but on January 1 or 2, 1899, he relocated it again, this time back to Manila, where he could more effectively seek the release of Spanish POWs. On January 4, 1899, U.S. General Elwell Otis issued a proclamation announcing that the United States had obtained possession and control of all of the Philippines from the Spanish.

As a consequence of its defeat, Spain transferred its rights over the Philippine archipelago to the U.S., with the Philippines ceasing to be a colony of Spain and becoming a colony of the U.S. On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the United States, ending the Spanish–American War. In article III of this treaty, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. Felipe Agoncillo, who had been assigned by Aguinaldo as Ambassador to the United States, had traveled to Paris but had been refused admission to the conference. He worked hard to prevent the ratification of the treaty by Spain, but failed. Returning to Paris, he sent a message to Aguinaldo about the refusal of the United States and other foreign powers to recognize the independence of the Philippines.

During the entire time that the Filipino revolutionary movement developed as described above, first under Bonifacio and later under Makabulos and Aguinaldo, the Philippines was under Spanish sovereignty. The Filipino revolutionary movement was an insurgency against the Spanish colonial government, and the various "governments" described above were insurgent governments.

By today's standards, a treaty of cession is void if it arises out of an act of annexation procured by the threat or use of force. Although the 1898 annexation of the Philippines by the U.S. would have been unlawful by today's standards, it does not follow that the U.S. claims of sovereignty are unfounded. Under the doctrine of intertemporal law, "a juridical fact must be appreciated in light of the law contemporary with it, and not the law in force at the time when a dispute in regard to it arises or falls to be settled." Thus, the legality of any act should be determined in accordance with the law of the time the act was committed, and not by reference to law as it might have become at a later date. By the Westphalian sovereignty standards of the late 19th century, the cessation of these territories by Spain to the U.S. was valid.

U.S. military government

On August 14, 1898, following the August 12 capture of Manila, the U.S. had established a military government in the Philippines under General Merritt as military governor. During military rule (1898–1901), the U.S. military commander governed the Philippines under the authority of the U.S. president as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. General Otis succeeded General Merritt as military governor, governing from 1898 to 1900. General Otis was succeeded by General MacArthur, who governed from 1900 to 1901.

Dictatorial and Revolutionary governments

On June 18, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed a Dictatorial government. Five days later, on June 23, he issued a decree changing its character to a revolutionary government.

After proclaiming his Revolutionary government, Aguinaldo created diplomatic positions abroad in order to persuade foreign powers to recognize Philippine independence and promulgated decrees creating committees abroad for the purpose of carrying on propaganda activities. He issued decrees on June 24 and August 10 establishing the Hongkong Junta whose members were to represent the Philippines in different countries. A 24 August decree created a revolutionary committee in foreign countries. Diplomatic agents were appointed for the U.S., Japan, England, France, and Australia. The Paris Committee and Madrid Committee were created to work for the recognition of Philippine independence by France and Spain.

First Philippine Republic

On January 22, 1899, the promulgation of the Malolos Constitution replaced Aguinaldo's insurgent revolutionary government with the First Philippine Republic; also an insurgent government, but insurgent against the United States instead of against Spain.

Felipe Agoncillo went to the U.S. to work for American recognition, but his attempts to secure an official audience with U.S. President William McKinley failed. He sailed to Europe to appeal to the American Peace Commissioners there to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, but failed in this as well. He returned to the U.S. to fight the ratification of the treaty. On February 4, 1899, with Agoncillo in the U.S., general hostilities erupted between U.S. and Filipino forces, beginning what later came to be known as the Philippine–American War. With the eruption of hostilities, Agoncillo fled the U.S.

That same day, Aguinaldo issued an order commanding "... That peace and friendly relations with the Americans be broken and that the latter be treated as enemies, ..." On March 30, U.S. Forces captured Malolos, Bulacan, which had been the seat of Aguinaldo's various governments. Meanwhile, Aguinaldo had evacuated and established new headquarters in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija. By June, Aguinaldo had moved his headquarters to Cabanatuan where, on June 2, a Declaration of War on the United States was officially proclaimed.

On March 23, 1901, after about two years of war, Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela. On April 1, 1901, Aguinaldo swore an oath accepting the authority of the United States over the Philippines and pledging his allegiance to the American government.

U.S. civil government of the Philippines

After Aguinaldo swore allegiance to the U.S., the U.S. military government was replaced by a civil government on July 4, 1901.

Scattered fighting continued for some time but the U.S. enacted the Philippine Organic Act on July 1, 1902 and, on July 4, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed a full and complete pardon and amnesty to all people in the Philippine archipelago who had participated in the conflict, effectively ending the war.

In 1916, the Philippine Autonomy Act, popularly known as the Jones Law, was passed by the U.S. Congress. The law, which served as the new organic act (or constitution) for the Philippines, stated in its preamble that the eventual independence of the Philippines would be American policy, subject to the establishment of a stable government. The law maintained the Governor General of the Philippines, appointed by the President of the United States, but established a bicameral Philippine Legislature to replace the elected Philippine Assembly (lower house) and appointive Philippine Commission (upper house) previously in place.

Numerous independence bills were submitted to the U.S. Congress, and the Hare–Hawes–Cutting Act became U.S. law on January 17, 1932. The law required the Philippine Senate ratification, which was not forthcoming. Philippine President Quezon led a twelfth independence mission to Washington to secure a better independence act. The result was the Tydings–McDuffie Act of 1934, which was ratified by the Philippine Senate. The law provided for the granting of Philippine independence by 1946.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act provided for the drafting and guidelines of a Constitution, for a 10-year "transitional period" as the Commonwealth of the Philippines before the granting of Philippine independence. On May 5, 1934, the Philippines legislature passed an act setting the election of convention delegates. Governor General Frank Murphy designated July 10 as the election date, and the convention held its inaugural session on July 30. The completed draft constitution was approved by the convention on February 8, 1935, approved by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt on March 23, and ratified by popular vote on May 14. The first election under the constitution was held on September 17, and on November 15, 1935 the Commonwealth government was inaugurated.

Commonwealth period

The period 1935–1946 would ideally be devoted to the final adjustments required for a peaceful transition to full independence, a great latitude in autonomy being granted in the meantime.

On May 14, 1935, an election to fill the newly created office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was won by Manuel L. Quezon (Nacionalista Party) and a Filipino government was formed on the basis of principles superficially similar to the US Constitution. (See: Philippine National Assembly).

Japanese occupation during World War II

A few hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched air raids in several cities and US military installations in the Philippines on December 8, and on December 10, and Manila was occupied by the Japanese on January 2, 1942. The Commonwealth government by then had become a Government in exile seated in Washington, D.C., upon the invitation of U.S. President Roosevelt. Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon had declared Manila, the capital, an "open city" and left it under the rule of Jorge B. Vargas, as mayor. The Japanese entered the city on January 2, 1942 and established it as the capital. Japan fully captured the Philippines on May 6, 1942, after the Battle of Corregidor. The Second Philippine Republic was established on October 14, 1943 under Japanese occupation and endured until the end of the war, it was repudiated and the government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines restored.

Independence and sovereignty

Philippine independence finally came on July 4, 1946, with the signing of the Treaty of Manila between the governments of the United States and the Philippines. The treaty provided for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.

During the interim since the end of the 19th century, the constitutive theory of statehood had given way to the declarative theory of statehood. A document that is often quoted on the matter is the Montevideo Convention (1933), Article 1 of which states:

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Once the Treaty of Manila took effect, the Philippines, in possession of all these qualifications, became an independent nation and a sovereign state.

Post-independence territorial changes

In 1961, the Philippines enacted Republic Act No. 3046 (RA3446), to define the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippines. This Act was amended on September 18, 1968 by RA5446, and on March 10, 2009 by RA9522.

Presidential Proclamation No. 1596 had asserted Philippine sovereignty over the Spratly Islands on June 11, 1978. RA9522 reasserted that, and also asserted Philippine sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal.

On 8 April 2009, the Philippines lodged a partial territorial waters claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in relation to the continental shelf in the region of Benham Rise. On 28 April 2012, Ramon Paje, director of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced that the claim had been approved by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Independence Day holiday

From 1946 to 1961, July 4 (the anniversary date of the Treaty of Manila), was observed as Independence Day. On 12 May 1962, Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal issued Presidential proclamation No. 28, which declared Tuesday, June 12, 1962 (the anniversary date of the 1898 Philippine Declaration of Independence) as a special public holiday throughout the Philippines, "... in commemoration of our people's declaration of their inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence. " On August 4, 1964, Republic Act No. 4166 renamed the July 4 holiday as "Philippine Republic Day", proclaimed the twelfth day of June is as the Philippine Independence Day, and enjoined all citizens of the Philippines to observe 12 June with rites befitting Independence Day.

Philippine Supreme Court statements regarding sovereignty

During the period when the military government exercised administrative control, the Taft Commission (created on March 16, 1900) exercised legislative powers. On June 11, 1901, the commission had passed the Judiciary Law (Act no. 126), vesting judicial power in the Supreme Court, Courts of First Instance and Justice of the Peace courts.

At least two cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court contain statements by the court concerning the exchange of sovereignty between Spain and the United States.

  • In United States v. Smith, the Philippine Supreme Court wrote that a complete separation of Church and State had been caused by the change of sovereignty from Spain to the United States.
  • In Philippines vs. Lo-Lo and Saraw, the court said, more clearly, "By the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the United States."
  • Island of Palmas

    The island of Palmas, also referred to as Miangas, is located in the Celebes Sea south of Mindanao, at approximately 5°33′30″N, 127°12′53° E. The island lies within the geographical area described by Article III of the Treaty of Paris as encompassing the Philippine archipelago and ceded by Spain to the U.S. The Island of Palmas Case was a case involving a territorial dispute between the Netherlands and the United States which was heard by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The arbitrator ruled on 4 April 1928 that the island forms in its entirety a part of Netherlands territory.

    Spratly Islands

    The Spratly Islands, also known as the Kalayaan Islands, are a group of more than 650 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea between the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam. They comprise less than five square kilometers of land area, spread over more than 400,000 square kilometers of sea. The islands lie within the geographical area described by Article III of the Treaty of Paris as encompassing the Philippine archipelago and ceded by Spain to the U.S. A number of sovereignty disputes regarding these islands have arisen, some of which remain unresolved as of 2009.

    Sabah and Palawan

    Sabah is a Malaysian state located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. The Philippines has a dormant claim over much of the eastern part of the territory. To date, Malaysia continues to consistently reject Philippine calls to resolve the matter of Sabah's jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice. Also, territorial cessations made by the Sultan of Sulu have led to sovereignty disputes over the Philippine island of Palawan.


    Sovereignty of the Philippines Wikipedia

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