The Period of Suppressed Nationalism
Early American Colonial Policies and the Fight for Philippine Nationalism

American Rule and Philippine Independence
• •

The establishment of American rule was a challenge to Filipino nationalism and independence As the Americans settled in to rule the islands, the Filipinos continued their fight against U.S. sovereignty and the continuing oppression by the military Agoncillo gives two challenges faced by the nationalists after 1898
a) whether it could endure the obstacles to independence b) if they could overcome the objectives of independence

In spite of McKinley’s instruction to the Taft Commission that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech or the press or of the right of the people to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievance” the commission passed laws suppressing basic rights “for the safety of the sovereignty of the United States in the Philippines” One of the laws passed was Act No. 292 or the Sedition Law

Act No. 292 or the Sedition Law was passed on November 4, 1901. Its pertinent portions are:
Sec. 1: Every person, resident in the Philippine Islands, owing allegiance to the United States or the Government of the Philippine Islands, who levies war against them, or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the Philippine Islands or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and, upon conviction shall suffer death or, at the discretion of the Court, shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than five years and fined not less than ten thousand dollars. Sec. 8: Every person who shall utter seditious words or speeches, write, publish, or circulate, scurrilous libels against the Government of the Philippine Islands or which tend to disturb or obstruct any lawful officer in executing his office, of which suggest or incite rebellious conspiracies or riots or which tend to stir up the people against the lawful authorities or to disturb the peace of the community, the safety and order of the Government, or who shall knowingly conceal such evil practices, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding thou thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both in the discretion of the Court.

Sec. 10: Until it has been officially proclaimed that a state of war or insurrection against the authority or sovereignty of the United States no longer exists in the Philippine Islands, it shall be unlawful for any person to advance orally or by writing or printing or like methods, the independence of the Philippines Islands or their separation from the United States whether by peaceable or forcible means, or to print, publish or circulate any handbill, newspaper or publication, advocating such independence or separation.



• The Sedition Law effectively suppressed several aspects in society that the Filipinos may use for their expressions of independence and nationalism: a) b) c) d) The theater and other art expressions Political parties Publications Political movements

The Seditious Theater

The theater was a form of entertainment for many Filipinos during the Spanish times. In the period of suppressed nationalism, it became the means to express the antiAmerican sentiments of the nationalists. In 1902, the seditious theater was born.

In the seditious theater, playwrights spoke up on stage, disguising their anti-Spanish and antiAmerican sentiments in the costumes, manners and scenography of traditional theater. When they were discovered by American authorities, the cast and crew, sometimes the audience were arrested.

The staging of Severino Reyes’ Walang Sugat

Using traditional stage methods, the actors and crew inserted bits of subversive stage business: costumes would suddenly form the the Philippine flag (the display of which was forbidden by law); the unscheduled singing of the National Anthem (also forbidden by law); the surprise appearance on stage of an underground hero, like General Artemio Ricarte; or new stage business, like the trampling of the American flag, or, in the case of Severino Reyes’ Walang Sugat (Unwounded), the replacement of the friar-villain by Uncle Sam.

The Seditious Plays and their Authors
1. Juan Abad - Tanikalang Guinto (Golden Chain) is about Ligaya (light; the spirit of independence), daughter of Dalita (extreme poverty and suffering; the Mother Country), who is forbidden to see Kaulayaw (sweetheart; Filipino hero) by her uncle Maimbot (greedy; the American insular government). Ligaya receives a golden bracelet from Maimbot that becomes a chain to bind her to his control. first staged at the Teatro Libertad on July 7, 1902, and subsequently in other theaters in Manila, Laguna and Cavite. On May 10, 1903, provincial authorities shut down its Batangas performance and indicted the author for sedition. Abad was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of $2000. The decision was later reversed by the Supreme Court in 1906. While Abad was out under bail, he wrote Isang Punlo ng Kaaway (An Enemy Bullet) which was performed at the Teatro Rizal in Malabon on May 8, 1904. The show was stopped by authorities which resulted in Abad’s second arrest.

Artemio Ricarte



2. Juan Matapang Cruz - Hindi Aco Patay (I Am Not Dead) was presented at the Teatro Nueva Luna in Malabon on the night of May 8, 1903. The play features the story of Karangalan (honor) who loves Tangulan (defender, patriot), and resists Macamcam (one who usurps power; the American insular government). Tangulan is thought killed in a duel with Macamcam, but he springs up and declares, “I am not dead!” The red sun on a Katipunan flag rises behind the stage, representing freedom won, and the loyal Filipinos take the villains and traitors captive. A riot occurred when a drunken American soldier hurled an empty beer bottle at the Katipunan flag, then climbed the stage with some others and tore the scenery apart. This led to the arrest of the theater manager, the banning of the play, and the confiscation of “seditious” props, among them Katipunan flags and revolutionary emblems. Ten of the actors were arrested a month later while Cruz was arrested two months later. During the trial, Cruz denied he was the author of the play and even pointed to his wife as the one who wrote the play. Nevertheless, Cruz was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and apparently served them in full.


Aurelio Tolentino


- he was a revolutionary long before he concentrated on playwriting. He was a member of the Katipunan and later wrote for various nationalist newspapers. In August 1900 he headed a secret society called Junta de Amigos, “with authority from Aguinaldo to form and organize guerrillas” He became involved in various revolutionary activities during the American period and was arrested a number of times. In his lifetime, Tolentino suffered nine imprisonments.

His most popular play was Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas. It was about attempts to subjugate the Philippines in the past (by the Chinese), in the present (the Spanish officials and friars) and the future (the Americans), and how Inangbayan (Mother Country) and her son Tagailog (Tagalog; the Filipino) win over them. This was played on May 14, 1903 at the Teatro Libertad in Manila.

At one point, the script called for the actor playing Tagailog (the Tagalog provinces) to haul down the American flag and to trample on it as a sign of victory. Since the actor was reluctant to do this in full view of the Americans in the audience, Tolentino reportedly took over the role himself. This angered the Americans in the audience, who then rioted As a result, Tolentino and several other members of the company were arrested

Tolentino was charged with sedition and defended by a young lawyer, Manuel Quezon. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of $2000 gold. The sentence was appealed but on March 6, 1906, the Supreme Court upheld the decision and found Tolentino guilty as charged. He was jailed in the Bilibid Prison in Manila.

Other suppressed plays: 1. Ang Kalayaan Hindi Natupad (The Unattained Freedom) by an anonymous playwright - Obando, Bulacan on May 15, 1903, cast and crew arrested. 2. Pulong Pinaglahuan (Subjugated Island) by Mariano Martinez - Navotas, Rizal on January 23, 1904; author and 20 performers arrested 3. Dahas na Pilak (Silver Force) by anonymous author - Teatro Nueva Luna in Malabon, Rizal, May 1, 1904; manager and eleven actors arrested. 4. Ang Katipunan (The Katipunan) by Gabriel Beato Francisco; February 21, 1905 in Laoag, Ilocos Norte; the entire audience reportedly arrested



Even though the Sedition Law wasn’t enacted yet, the American colonial government was hesitant about political parties being founded which advocated independence. Although the Filipinos wanted to participate in political exercises, Taft wasn’t ready yet to allow them to do so especially if the parties advocated independence.

Political Parties

In August, 1901, the Nacionalista Party was organized by Pascual Poblete and had among its members, ardent nationalists like Santiago Alvarez, Cecilio Apostol, Macario Sakay, Lope K. Santos, and some former revolutionaries. The party’s objective was to secure autonomy then independence for the Philippines. But Taft refused to recognize it . Other parties attempted to form themselves with an independent platform like the Partido Democrata but the Americans refused to acknowledge them.

In 1902, Pedro Paterno formed the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal) with an objective for “self-government.” He deliberately left out the word “independence” from the party platform. The party was immediately accepted by the government.

Another party, the Federal Party, was organized in 1900. The officials of this group were well-known americanistas headed by Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and they proposed to make the Philippines a part of the United States. The Federal Party remained in power for several years and participated in the colonial government activities including handling positions in the Philippine Commission. But the party was unpopular especially for the remaining nationalists at that time.

Editorial cartoon in the satirical magazine Lipang Kalabaw on the Partido Federalista

The Flag Law



Though the national flag was still displayed during political affairs, it soon became noticeable by the Americans as a symbol of the aspirations of Philippine independence. In 1907, as the elections for the First Philippine Assembly were about to be held, Fernando Ma. Guerrero, a journalist and poet, decided to run as a candidate in Manila for the newly-organized Liga Popular Nacionalista. He won an overwhelming victory

As Teodoro Kalaw narrates: "During the tumultuous celebration of his [Guerrero's] victory, the Filipino Flag was very openly displayed, and with great emotion. In contrast, the American flag received very little attention. Many American officers considered this an aspersion cast on the American sovereignty of the Islands. As a consequence, the Civil Commission, a few days later, declared illegal the display of the Filipino flag, and, in general, the use of any emblem used in the Revolution."

On 23 August 1907, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 1696 also known as the Flag Law. It prohibited “the display of flags, banners, emblems, or devices used in the Philippines for the purpose of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, and of Katipunan flags, banners, emblems, or devices.” The law also covered the display of the Philippine flag. For over 10 years, in spite of the Filipino control of the legislature, the lawmakers failed to repeal the Flag Law after the bills that they passed was vetoed by the governor-General. It was only in 1919 when a more lenient American leader signed it into law after the Philippine Legislature passed it.

On October 30, 1919, Governor General Francis Burton Harrison signed into law the Philippine Legislature's Act repealing the Flag Law. The bill had been sponsored by Senator Rafael Palma.

Gov. Gen. Francis Burton Harrison with Senator Rafael Palma and businessman Vicente Madrigal during the presentation of the Philippine flag in Malacanang after the repeal of the Flag Law on October 30, 1919.

Censorship and Suppression of Publications



Censorship was first done by the military regime before the Philippine Commission passed the Sedition Law. Nationalism was expressed through writings that promoted either self-government or independence directly or indirectly. Once these writings were spotted by the military, and later, civil authorities, the newspaper was closed down and its editors and writers were penalized. One such newspaper was El Nuevo Dia in Cebu founded by Sergio Osmena and Jaime de Veyra in 1900. The newspaper was closed down twice by the American military and its offices subjected to searches. Its staff was also threatened with arrests and banishment. But the newspaper outlasted even the American military government. It would close down in 1903 after Osmena and De Veyra left for Manila to toss their hats in the political arean

The El Renacimiento Libel Case

El Renacimiento - was founded in 1901 by Rafael Palma and and fellow nationalist writers in Manila - it’s meaning was “Rebirth” - the newspaper was put up as a result of a perceived growth by Filipino nationalists of their countrymen’s inclination to accept American sovereignity - less than a year later, the Tagalog section Muling Pagsilang was added to the newspaper.

- the newspaper became well-known for its anti-American stance and nationalist ideals - it constantly drew threats of libel cases from American officials but cooler heads and diplomacy intervened - in 1903, Palma left the Renacimiento and he was replaced by his father-in-law Martin Ocampo as publisher. In 1907, Teodoro M. Kalaw became director while Fidel Reyes was appointed as editor-in-chief.

The El Renacimiento administration in 1908

The Aves de Rapiña Editorial
October 30, 1908

Martin Ocampo

Teodoro M. Kalaw

Fidel Reyes



Dean C. Worcester - first arrived in the Philippines in 1887 as a junior member of a scientific expedition - appointed to the First Philippine Commission (Schurman Commission) in 1899 - became a member of the civil administration in 1901 when, as a member of the Second Philippine Commission (Taft Commission), he became Secretary of the Interior - scientist, writer, propagandist, entrepreneur

- the editorial came out on page 4 of the October 30, 1908 issue of El Renacimiento - It was written by Fidel Reyes and was directed against Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester


the editorial was a reaction against Worcester for his racist and self-serving policies in government - this included the Special Government Province Act of 1905 which placed the ethnic Filipinos under special administration by the Interior Department and his investments for commercial and economic ventures in tribal lands

- what is not known in our history was that the editorial was an offshoot of an earlier editorial cartoon that appeared in Lipang Kalabaw, a satirical magazine. - the cartoon depicted Worcester as King Belshazzar of Babylonia who was warned by God for his persecution of the Jews through the words “Mene Thekel Phares” written on the walls of the palace - the cartoon itself showed that the oracle (the Filipino people) warning “King” Worcester to “abdicate” his leadership over his subjects - it wasn’t surprising to note that the last words of the Aves de Rapina piece was the same warning to Belshazzar by the Hand of God.

November 5, 1908 - the staff and officials of El Renacimiento were informed of their arrest for the charge of libel filed by Worcester According to Muling Pagsilang: “ang dahil ng sakdal ay isang salaysay na lumabas noong ika-30 ng Oktubre sa El Renacimiento at pinamagatang Aves de Rapina. Ang nilalaman ng salaysay ay pinaghanguan di umano’y pagsirangpuri kay Dean C. Worcester…”



Charged with Libel before the sala of Judge Chas H. Smith at the Manila Court of First Instance were: El Renacimiento 1. Martin Ocampo - administrator 2. Teodoro M. Kalaw – director 3. Fidel Reyes – editor-in-chief Muling Pagsilang 1. Lope K. Santos – director 2. Faustino Aguilar – editor-in chief

The defense team were composed of the best lawyers headed by Felipe Agoncillo. Their bail money was put up by friends and close contacts

The Trial
the libel case would drag for six years and was a test run between American colonial policies and the freedom of the press - the defendants became instant celebrities equal to the unpopularity of Worcester - Filipino, Spanish, and even some American newspapers lent their support to El Renacimiento and condemned the suit for its interference to press freedom - but the defense was not just fighting a libel suit, it was fighting a government enforcing laws to suppress the nationalism of a people

The Verdict
- On January 9, 1909, Ocampo and Reyes

were found guilty and sentence to six months imprisonment and a P2000 fine plus payment of one-fifth of legal costs - On March 8, Kalaw was pronounced guilty and sentenced to nine months imprisonment and a P3000 fine plus payment of one-fifth of the legal costs - Both Santos and Aguilar were found not guilty

- on appeal to the Supreme Court, on 22 December 1910, Ocampo’s conviction was upheld; Reyes was cleared for insufficient evidence and Kalaw’s penalty was raised from nine to twelve months. The case was later argued in the US Supreme Court and the decision was affirmed in 1914. - But still not satisfied with the verdict, Worcester filed a civil suit against the newspaper. In a letter to a friend, he said that he was intent on putting “this particular mischievous newspaper out of business.”



The verdict on the civil suit put the El Renacimiento out of business. In a decision penned on January 19, 1910, the defendants were ordered to pay the amount of P60,000 divided as follows: P35,000 “for damages on account of wounded feelings, mental suffering, and injuries” on Worcester; P25,000 “for punitive damages - In order to pay the penalty, the equipment of the newspaper was sold in public auction on January 28.


The last issue of the Renacimiento was an issue of homage to the people who helped them in their time of need. The editorial was a message of thanks from the editors and writers as well as a cry against the continuing oppression by the Americans - In 1914, Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison issued pardons for both Ocampo and Kalaw. Both didn’t spend a day in jail.

- But the Renacimiento libel case was not an entire victory for Worcester. By the time, the case ended, Kalaw was a Batangas representative in the Second Philippine Assembly while Ocampo and Reyes continued their careers as writers and businessmen. In 1910, Ocampo put out a new weekly magazine that again was nationalist in nature. It was called Renacimiento Filipino.

The period of suppressed nationalism was more than a period of oppression for the Filipinos. It was a time of challenge for the independence that they lost in the American colonization. As self-rule was granted to them during the civil government, the Filipinos took up the fight again, this time in the realm of politics.

The End