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Self-serving statements made by the insurgent leaders with reference to wliat had occurred in the past are entitled to very little consideration. They wrote down whatever they thought would bolster up their case, create sentiment in their favor abroad, or encourage their followers at home, exactly as European belligerents did a decade and more later. But contemporaneous admissions against interest are pretty certain to be true and have a recognized value in the law of evidence. The Filipinos had acquired the Spanish habit of making elaborate records of all their political and military transactions. The acts of the Hong Kong junta were carefully recorded in detail in the records of their meetings.58 From the minutes of the meeting held on May 4, 1898, two days after Aguinaldo returned from Singapore, it appears that he explained to the junta the situation which had developed and that there was then a general discussion of the advisability of his returning to the Philippines. Aguinaldo then knew what had occurred between himself and Pratt; it was fresh in his mind. If Pratt, with Dewey's approval, had pledged the faith of the United States, it is absolutely certain that Aguinaldo would have reported the fact to his associates.
It was for all of them the one big thing in all the world. And yet Aguinaldo, in his statement to the junta, made no reference to any covenant with Pratt and Dewey. In fact, what he did report was inconsistent with the existence of even an implied understanding. According to his report the conditions under which he was to cooperate with the American forces had not at that time been determined. Pratt and Aguinaldo had, as stated in the minutes of the meeting,
"both agreed that the President (Aguinaldo ) should confer with the Admiral commanding the American squadron in Mirs Bay and if the latter should accept his propositions, advantageous in his judgment to the Philippines, he would go to said country in one of the cruisers.”
67 Those who accept as true every assertion made by the insurgents with reference to the acts and statements of Americans must also believe many things discreditable to certain American public men who were not in the Philippines. See infra, p. 508, note.
68 Phil. Insurg. Recs., 53–2.
When Aguinaldo reached Hong Kong, Dewey had sailed for Manila. He then talked with Consul Wildman and reported that he "was not satisfied with such interviews.” As everything was in the air, Aguinaldo “begged the committee to discuss the advisability of his going to the Islands” and leaving them at Hong Kong. The opinions of leading members of the junta were entered at length in the minutes to which they affixed their signatures. Sandico, Garchitorena and Apacible, thought that Aguinaldo's presence in the Philippines was necessary in order to prevent dissension among the people, but Aguinaldo insisted that he
"considered it reckless for him to go to the Philippines without first making a written agreement with the Admiral as it might happen, if he placed himself at his orders, that he might make him subscribe to or sign a document containing proposals highly prejudicial to the interests of the country from which might arise the following two very grave contingencies:
"1. If he should accept them he would undoubtedly commit an unpatriotic act and his name would justly be eternally cursed by the Filipinos.
"2. If he should refuse, then the break between the two would be evident.”
To escape this dilemma he proposed that a committee should go to the Philippines, see Admiral Dewey and
“ascertain in an authentic manner what the intentions of the United States in regard to that country are and if his intervention is absolutely necessary, he would not object to go at once to the Philippines.”
Hence Aguinaldo at that time realized that he had no definite arrangements with any representative of the United States and that even if Pratt and Wildman had encouraged him to return
to Hong Kong he understood that they were without authority to speak for the United States. Neither he nor the junta had any illusions as to the powers of the consuls. They did believe, however, that Dewey might possibly have such authority, and Aguinaldo desired to get in touch with him.
The objections to sending a committee, instead of Aguinaldo, to Manila, which were then made by Sandico, Garchitorena, Apacible and Gonzaga, and the policy then outlined, were fully set forth in the minutes of the meeting, and signed by all present. They were convinced that Dewey would furnish arms because the fleet alone could do nothing unless it operated in conjunction with the insurgents. They understood the situation and calculated very properly upon taking advantage of Dewey's necessities. 59 This document is so important as to justify further quotation.
“The authority to treat which the President desired to give to the other chiefs, without reflecting at all upon their personal qualifications, they did not believe would be as efficacious as his personal intervention, which is necessary in grave affairs, such as those the subject of discussion; there would be no better occasion than that afforded them to insure the landing of the expeditionary forces on those islands and to arm themselves at the expense of the Americans and to assure the situation of the Philippines in regard to our legitimate aspirations against those very people. The Filipino people, unprovided with arms, would be the victims of the demands and exactions of the United States; but, provided with arms, would be able to oppose themselves to them, struggling for independence, in which consists the true happiness of the Philippines. And they finished by saying that it made no difference if the Spanish government did demand the return of the four hundred thousand pesos, and if the demand were allowed in an action, since the object of the sum would be obtained by the Admiral furnishing the Filipinos the arms which they required for the struggle for their legitimate aspirations. . . .
59 "As a matter of fact,” says Le Roy, "this is only the first of a series of events and documents which show that the Filipinos during 1898 and 1899 looked into the future more shrewdly and mapped out their course of action in a less haphazard way than did the Americans." The Americans in the Philippines, I, p. 208, note.
“The President, with his prestige in the Philippines, would be able to arouse those masses to combat the demands of the United States, if they colonized that country, and would drive them, if circumstances rendered it necessary, to a Titanic struggle for their independence, even if they should succumb in shaking off the yoke of a new oppressor. If Washington proposed to carry out the fundamental principles of its constitution, there was no doubt that it would not attempt to colonize the Philippines, or even to annex them. It was probable then that it would give them independence and guarantee it; in such case the presence of the President was necessary, as he would prevent dissensions among the sons of the country who sought office, who might cause the intervention of European powers, an intervention which there was no reason to doubt would be highly prejudicial to the interests of the country. ... What injury could come to the Philippines, even if we admitted that the Admiral would not give arms to the President on account of his refusal to sign a document prejudicial to the country, after he had taken all means to provide for her defense? None. Such an act of the President could not be censured, but, on the other hand, would be most meritorious because it would be one proof more of his undoubted patriotism."60
Aguinaldo sailed for Manila with the definite understanding that the Americans had made no promises. He and his associates hoped that after reaching the islands he might induce the admiral to make some sort of terms with him. They understood perfectly that they were relying on their own influence and their skill in turning the situation to their advantage.
It thus appears from the statements of Pratt, Wildman and Aguinaldo himself, that Bray's assertion that a written agreement was entered into at Singapore was false. Aguinaldo never claimed that there was any such document. The minutes of the meeting of the Hong Kong junta, held immediately after Aguinaldo's return, prove that he did not then claim that there
60 Phil. Insurg. Recs., 53, 2. Taylor, I, p. 231.
had been even an oral agreement between him and Pratt or any understanding other than that he should return to Hong Kong, see Dewey, and if possible arrange for the cooperation of the insurgents. He proceeded to Hong Kong and thence to Cavite for that purpose. Our knowledge of what occurred at his first interview with Dewey rests on the conflicting statements of Dewey and Aguinaldo. The former made his statement within a few days after the meeting in a formal report to the secretary of the navy. Aguinaldo's statement in the Reseña Verídica was made in September, 1899, a year and three months after the event. As dressed up by his advisers it was inherently improbable and unworthy of belief. Admiral Dewey was an experienced naval officer, fully informed of his powers and duties and aware of the fact that political questions were beyond his province. He delivered the insurgent leader on shore and supplied him with arms, but it is inconceivable that he assumed to make any such promises or representations as are set forth in the Reseña Verídica. No one who is acquainted with the circumstances and the records now believes that Dewey made Aguinaldo any promises.
It is equally certain that the insurgent leaders were not misled into assisting the Americans by any inferences which they were justified in drawing from the conduct of either Pratt, Wildman, Dewey, or Anderson. It has been believed by many friends of the Filipinos that Aguinaldo and the members of the Hong Kong junta were tricked by wiser and more experienced men, but we now know that they were playing their own game with open eyes and subtle brains alert to take every advantage of the extraordinary conditions which had arisen in the Philippines. Wildman, Williams and Pratt thought that theirs were the guiding hands. To Dewey the Filipinos were "little brown men," "mere boys,” who annoyed him. They were in fact a type of men with which the American officers were unfamiliar and whose general intelligence and skill as politicians they greatly underestimated.
Long before the United States decided to annex the Philip