The Many Ways Filipinos Fought for Independence During the American Colonization

There are a thousand ways to skin a cat, and a thousand ways to regain independence.

From 1902 to 1946, the Philippines was occupied as a colony of the United States of America following the aftermath of the Philippine-American War. All throughout the occupation, however, Filipinos struggled bravely to take back their independence and freedom.

While the road to independence is credited to Manuel Quezon and his Tydings-McDuffie Act, which created the Commonwealth of the Philippines, it was first trod by martyr and heroes, patriots and politicians alike.

Sakay’s Tagalog Republic


Following Emilio Aguinaldo’s capture and surrender in Isabela, he immediately sent a letter to all remaining Katipunan units to lay down their arms and accept American dominance. Not all took heed, however. Miguel Malvar continued the struggle in Southern Luzon, but he folded, as well. Other generals followed suit, but perhaps the most famous was Macario Sakay, the long-haired president of the Republika ng Katagalugan.

Sakay was a veritable Katipunan veteran who fought the Spaniards alongside Andres Bonifacio from the beginning. He did not give up the nation without a fight. Sakay and other Katipuneros briefly considered parliamentary struggle, attempting to form the Partido Nacionalista with the likes of Santiago Alvarez and Francisco Carreon. This did not come to pass, however, and Governor General William Howard Taft made sure to rule them out.


This, coupled with Malvar’s surrender, convinced Sakay that parliamentary struggle was meaningless. The true path to peace was through war. He took to the mountains of San Cristobal and declared a new republic: the Republika ng Katagalugan.

The Republika quickly embedded itself in the masses, who readily gave their support to the cause. They saw the Republika as a new Katipunan and Sakay the new Bonifacio. Sakay, for his part, quickly chastised the Malolos government’s capitulation and the current state of affairs, calling it a betrayal of Bonifacio’s ideals. Sakay’s Republika expanded, eventually reaching places like Cavite and Morong (now Rizal province) by 1906.


The Americans had enough by then. Specifically preying on “the emotional and sentimental part of the Filipino character,” they began enacting increasingly cruel policies of concentration and starvation to drain Sakay’s groundswell of support. They also threatened to disallow the 1907 Philippine Assembly, citing a lack of peace. The latter prompted Dominador Gomez, labor leader and aspiring ilustrado politician, to meet with Sakay and offer peace under “common ground.” The assurance of a pardon and the plight of the people around him convinced Sakay to go down to Manila.

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The people greeted Sakay’s Republika with joy upon its arrival in Manila. Crowds shouted, “Mabuhay si Sakay! Mabuhay ang mga bayani!” as he and his men approached. Unsurprisingly, the American promise of a pardon was a lie. Sakay was arrested, tried for banditry, and executed by the Americans.

He was far from the last man to sacrifice his life for Philippine independence, however.

The Urban Struggle

Meanwhile, the ilustrados in Manila were making their own moves. As early as 1901, figures like Pedro Paterno, T. H. Pardo de Tavera, and Benito Legarda formed one of the country’s first political parties, the Partido Federal. The Federalistas goal was simple: collaboration with the Americans leading to annexation and statehood. There was no use fighting an enemy they could not beat, and so they sought to join them instead. 

The Federalistas were challenged at every turn by many groups, not least of which was the labor movement. By 1902, Isabelo de los Reyes rallied the workers of the Carmelo and Bauermann Publishing House into the country’s first union, the Union Obrera Democratica. De los Reyes’ left leanings and the union's analysis of society led them to conclude that the workers’ problems were rooted in the political situation. And so, their call was: Death to imperialism, and an end to U.S. colonization.


The formation of the Philippine Assembly in 1907 became the turning point. The Partido Federal became the Partido Progresista, dropping its line of statehood in favor of independence. Its main opponent by then was the new Partido Nacionalista, founded by two former members of Aguinaldo’s wartime staff: Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña. Though different from Sakay’s abortive attempt, its platform of immediate independence resonated with the populace.

The Nacionalistas dominated the 1907 elections and the shape of politics in the next few decades. Their call for immediate independence cooled down and became a call for “independence in 10 years,” resulting in the Hare-Hawes-Cutting and the Tydings-McDuffie Acts, as well as the creation of a Commonwealth in 1935, as preparation for Philippine “independence.” Not all agreed, however.

The Voices of Workers

Two groups, in particular, weren’t impressed by Nacionalista politicking: the labor movement and the Sakdalistas.

Ever since the first International Workers’ Day protest in 1903, the labor movement grew increasingly militant and politicized. In 1924, Antonio Ora founded the short-lived Partido Obrero de Filipinas, which didn’t attract voters as much as it attracted labor leaders. One such leader was Crisanto Evangelista, who understood the need to unify labor unions across different companies and industries, and that, more important, a true workers’ party is one that puts the needs of the workers first.

Thus, in 1930, Evangelista and the workers of Manila formed another party, one more radical than any previous one: the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. The PKP’s challenge was simple: immediate independence and an end to U.S. colonialism. They concluded the U.S. was the primary reason why workers’ rights were being trampled upon by the rich, why farmers were abused by their landlords, and why such a system was being allowed to exist. 

The Communists drew continuous support from labor unions, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the peasant movement in Central Luzon. This continued until 1937, when Quezon declared the group illegal following allegations of inciting a riot during Antonio Ora’s burial procession.

The PKP wasn’t the only faction who rejected Quezon’s plan for pushing independence. The Sakdalistas, led by Benigno Ramos, were staunch critics of the Nacionalista Party and of Quezon, in particular. From politically charged newspaper articles to a full-blown movement, the Sakdalistsas chided Quezon for weakness for pushing the independence agenda. The firebrand rhetoric resonated with the peasants in the countryside, who experienced gross inequality brought about by tenancy laws favoring landlords.

The tipping point came in 1935 when the Sakdalistas rose up to take the question of independence into their own hands. Goaded by Ramos, who was in self-imposed exile in Japan at the time, thousands of Sakdalistas marched to various municipalities and city halls to take them over and declare them independent. They were armed with nothing more than bolos and their iron wills. All in all, an estimated 60,000 Sakdalistas participated in the uprising.

Things did not end well for the Sakdalistas. The Constabulary swiftly quelled the uprising with bullets, killing over 60 people and arresting a thousand more. The Republic was not freed on that day. Ramos, for his part, continued to talk with the Japanese before returning three years later to re-organize the Sakdalistas as the pro-Japanese Ganap Party. Ganap eventually formed the base of the MAKAPILI collaborators.


The end of U.S. colonialism came in 1946, when the U.S. flag was brought down and the Filipino flag took its place in Rizal Park. It took decades since the original declaration of independence in 1898, but for a brief moment, it didn’t matter. The Third Republic of the Philippines was formed, and it was now up to Filipinos to dictate their own destiny.


R. Ileto (1979), Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines 1840-1910, Ateneo de Manila University Press

M. Terami-Wada (2014), Sakdalistas’ Struggle for Philippine Independence 1930-1945, Ateneo de Manila University Press

J. Richardson (2011), Komunista: The Genesis of the Philippine Communist Party 1902-1935, Ateneo de Manila University Press

T. Agoncillo (1990), History of the Filipino People 8th ed, Garotech Publishing

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Justin Umali
Justin is left-handed, left-leaning, and best left in a cool, damp place. He listens to Vampire Weekend when he's down and Car Seat Headrest when he's not. He usually writes about Philippine history and politics, and believes that you cannot change the world without understanding it first.
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