Oh, that $20-million myth again

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Oct 16 2020 10:20 PM

Third of a series on Filipino American History Month 

If the Filipino-American romance had been recurrently a stormy love affair, as in fact it has been, still there exists a more than ample reservoir of genuine amity and mutual respect. Holding. Maturing. Beneficial. Strengthening. Enduring.

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I find there is essence in that reality. Mostly, it is the vibrant presence and participation of the Filipino within American polity. Now estimated to be over 4 million and counting! And by joint US Congressional recognition, celebrating every October the Filipino American History Month. Okay, that is my view. What is yours?

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Over the last 120 years, however, there has remained a constant commentary by nationalist soreheads and pundits bolstered by political satirists, joined by undiscerning kibitzers who continue to mouth and nag to this day overused and hackneyed words and sentiment. These folks who often vituperate may not even know what the source is, much less have read and understood the impact of the document from whence it emanated.

What are we talking about here, Buddy-boy?

I am referring to “$20,000,000.00,” in 1898 values. I am talking of the “Treaty of Paris.” 

Most among us do remember the very common belief and remark about how the Philippines fell into the hands of America for “$20,000,000.00!” for that was what the United States ‘paid’ and/or what Spain ‘sold’ the “Philippine Islands!” The implication of people as mere chattel being transacted from owner to new owner is unmistakable. Has it not endured to this day?. 

Those were the lines and sentiments espoused and launched by Mark Twain’s “Anti-Imperialist League,” organized within a couple of weeks of the Battle of Manila Bay. Its resonance continues to reverberate. The earliest of America’s self-made multimillionaires, Andrew Carnegie, even offered to “reimburse” the American treasury for that “$20,000,000.00” if the Philippine Islands were set free!

The Treaty of Paris was not and never was a “Deed of Purchase and Sale,” as hysterical historic rhetoric has been able to successfully demean all these years. The Treaty was a profoundly crafted document speaking of sovereignty, cession, relinquishment, recognition of ownership and reparation. And in fact, encompassing the concept of “reimbursement,” too, in the reverse manner meant by Carnegie! 

Here is a little review of history. No quiz to follow, promise!

This Treaty between the USA and the Kingdom of Spain was signed in Paris December 10, 1898, officially ending the Spanish-American War. (In a matter of weeks, the Philippine-American war erupted. Incidentally, a variant of historical labelling called that war “The Tagalog Insurrection.”) The Treaty’s ratification was advised by the US Senate and ratified by the US President, February 6, 1898; by the Queen of Spain, March 1899 and jointly proclaimed in Washington April 11, 1899. The document had but one solitary “Whereas,” with its Proclamation containing eighteen articles. Article I concerned Cuba while Article II, Puerto Rico and Guam. 

About the Philippines, here is what Article III says: “Spain cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippine Islands, and comprehending the islands lying within the following line: ….” which was a delineation of the territory’s geographic metes and bounds, sans population and number of islands. A description of the archipelago in the technical language of meridians, longitudes and latitudes, minutes and degrees followed. Notably, there is no mention of peoples, tribes much less a counting of subject heads!

That money did change hands is an undisputed fact. The last sentence of Article III is precise as to amount: “The United States will pay to Spain the sum of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) within three months after the exchange of ratifications of the present treaty.”

It is the objective of the transaction that has been the subject of a seemingly interminable partisan and nationalist spin. The unburnished truth is, however, to be found in Article VIII. 
The Treaty recognizes and respects possession and ownership of “all the buildings, wharves, barracks, forts, structures, public highways and other immovable property which, in conformity with law, belong to the public domain, and as such belong to the crown of Spain.” As well as declaring that “the relinquishment or cession cannot “impair the property or rights”…. “of provinces, municipalities, public establishments.” Evidently, the foregoing were not embodied in the cession document and therefore remained unrelinquished. In order for the acquisition of the foregoing to be legal and honorable, therefore, a need for ‘reimbursement,’ as it were, for physical improvements was called for. Indeed, so it was.

Additionally and although not written into the Treaty’s text, that “$20,000,000.00” was indeed also an expressed measure of a victor’s gallantry and generosity towards the vanquished, albeit hardly ever meriting mention. Perhaps this is one more exhibit of American exceptionalism. 

Is it not usual for losers to pay reparations as a consequence of defeat in war? The reverse was reality! The Crown of Spain had floated instruments of indebtedness in order to pursue and finance her war against the United States. She lost and in defeat, Spain asked for “reimbursement,” (Ah! There is that word, again.) In magnanimity, perhaps to salve the vanquished’s humbled honor, America also reimbursed Spain for her war expenses! 

Our chat today partakes of an attempt at righting a facet of our Filipino-American romance. I hope to have assisted as a pallbearer in burying a crass interpretation of an existential event. 

History is clear. The Philippines was once acquired by the United States of America but by dint of war and conquest, albeit bloody! A revered memory ought not be blemished by labelling its ensuing bloom in estimable relationship as a commercial purchase and sale of chattel!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.