Philippines Regains Its Independence

On July 4, 1946, the United States granted the Philippines complete independence after having controlled for a half century following its victory in the Spanish-American War the colonial government it established in 1898.

Summary of Event

On July 4, 1946, the citizens of the Philippines achieved an independence of which they had been deprived for over three and a half centuries. This nation, consisting of 7,170 volcanic islands, 2,000 of which are inhabited, came under Spanish control in 1565 when Spanish explorers claimed the country for Spain and established permanent settlements there. Anticolonial movements;Philippines
United States;colonial possessions
[kw]Philippines Regains Its Independence (July 4, 1946)
[kw]Independence, Philippines Regains Its (July 4, 1946)
Anticolonial movements;Philippines
United States;colonial possessions
[g]Southeast Asia;July 4, 1946: Philippines Regains Its Independence[01750]
[g]Philippines;July 4, 1946: Philippines Regains Its Independence[01750]
[c]Colonialism and occupation;July 4, 1946: Philippines Regains Its Independence[01750]
[c]Government and politics;July 4, 1946: Philippines Regains Its Independence[01750]
[c]Independence movements;July 4, 1946: Philippines Regains Its Independence[01750]
MacArthur, Douglas
[p]MacArthur, Douglas;World War II
Wainwright, Jonathan
Quezon, Manuel
Osmeña, Sergio
Roxas, Manuel
Marcos, Ferdinand
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
[p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;prewar foreign policy

Spanish domination ended in 1898 when United States forces defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Emilio Aguinaldo Aguinaldo, Emilio led a Philippine independence movement beginning in 1897, and in 1899, the Philippine Republic was established under his leadership. The United States, however, soon took control of the Philippines, after paying Spain twenty million dollars to cede the territory to the United States. From 1901 until 1946, the Philippine Republic was a United States possession.

At first, the Filipinos engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Western invaders. In time, however, as the United States helped to build the nation’s economy and strengthen its infrastructure, a symbiotic relationship developed between the two nations. A mutually advantageous Philippine-American association flourished over time.

Upon assuming the presidency of the United States in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt sided publicly with the Philippine people in their quest for independence. After 1935, the year in which the Philippines became a commonwealth, Filipinos became eligible to serve in the government. Manuel Quezon was elected president of the commonwealth, and legislators drew up a constitution Constitutions;Philippines modeled after that of the United States.

The United States government continued to control matters relating to the commonwealth’s national defense and foreign affairs, but local government became increasingly autonomous. The economy of the Philippine Republic was inextricably linked to that of the United States, which gave substantial economic assistance to the Republic in exchange for an agreement that permitted the United States to establish two military bases in the country, Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Bay Naval Station.

The road to independence was blocked for the four years during which the United States was at war with Japan following the Japanese bombing, on December 7, 1941, of Pearl Harbor and the simultaneous bombing of Clark Air Force Base. General Douglas MacArthur had served in the Philippines upon his graduation from West Point in 1903. He returned there in 1935 as a high-ranking military officer in the Philippine army, but, with the onset of World War II, was pressed back into military service in the United States Army to lead the defense of the Philippines, a position in which he served until March, 1942.

The United States surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese in 1942. MacArthur was reassigned to lead United States forces in the southwest Pacific during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. On his departure from Manila, he vowed emotionally and dramatically that he would return. General Jonathan M. Wainwright assumed command of the United States-Philippine army on MacArthur’s departure but on June 9, overwhelmed by the size of the Japanese opposition, he ordered his troops, some thirty-five thousand all told, to surrender.

MacArthur returned as he had promised on October 20, 1944, after leading military offenses that resulted in liberating the Philippines from the Japanese occupiers. There were more than ten thousand casualties in the Philippines on the much-publicized Bataan Death March alone. For every American that died, twenty Filipinos perished. During the Japanese occupation, some 120,000 Filipinos died just within the city limits of Manila.

During this period, Quezon left the Philippines to form and preside over a government-in-exile in Washington, D. C. from which he conducted all of the Republic’s relevant business. His eight-year term in office expired in 1943, but the United States Congress extended his tenure until the end of the war, an event Quezon did not live to witness. In 1944, he died in Washington and his vice president, Sergio Osmeña, succeeded him. Osmeña accompanied General MacArthur on his victorious return to the Philippines in October, 1944.

Manuel Roxas, first president of the indepedent Philippines, observes a U.S. Air Force air show at Clark Air Base, Luzon, on April 15, 1948.

During World War II, in which a total of more than one million Filipinos died, the people of the Philippines amply proved their loyalty and devotion to the United States. On August 14, 1945, following the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered. By the time the peace treaty between Japan and the United States was enacted on September 2, 1945, the Philippines’ largest city, Manila, had suffered a devastation second only to that suffered by Warsaw, Poland, during World War II. The city was virtually flattened as the result of aerial attacks, artillery fire, and exploding hand grenades. The Philippine economy was a shambles.

By this time, Philippine independence was long overdue. It was achieved officially on July 4, 1946, when an official declaration of independence was accepted by the United States and a new constitution, modeled after the constitution of the United States, was adopted. Public elections were held, and Manuel Roxas, with significant support from Douglas MacArthur, became the first president of an independent Philippines. During the five years immediately following Philippine independence, the United States poured more than two billion dollars in financial aid into the country.


It was the hope and expectation of the American government that the Philippines would develop into a democratic state. The nation embarked on the path to democracy with the election of Roxas, but when he succumbed to a heart attack in 1948, he was replaced by his vice president, Elpidio Quirino Quirino, Elpidio , who served the remainder of Roxas’ term of office and, in 1949, was reelected. Although it was alleged that one out of every five ballots cast in his favor was illegitimate, Quirino was sworn in. By 1950, his administration was so rife with fraud and corruption that runaway inflation swept the country and foreign trade fell off significantly.

Leftist Hukbalahap forces, called Huks for short, sought to gain the support of oppressed tenant farmers, arguing for a redistribution of land that would benefit them. President Quirino sought aid from the United States to control the Huks, inviting a U.S. economic mission Foreign aid, U.S.;Philippines to assess his country’s problems. As a result, the United States released another quarter of a billion dollars in aid to the Quirino administration, but much of this money disappeared into the pockets of corrupt politicians.

From that time until the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, massive corruption weakened any democratic aspirations Filipinos might have harbored. Although Marcos helped strengthen the Philippine economy, his regime was marked by personal excesses. He and his wife Imelda siphoned off much of the foreign aid being given to the country. Marcos, who ruled as a ruthless dictator from 1965 until 1986, imprisoned a major political opponent, Benigno Aquino Aquino, Benigno, Jr. , Jr., for seven years and is thought to have engineered Aquino’s assassination in 1983. Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino Aquino, Corazon , ran against Marcos in 1986 and defeated him. Marcos was exiled to Hawaii, where he died in 1989, marking the end of a ruthless regime. Anticolonial movements;Philippines
United States;colonial possessions

Further Reading

  • Green, Carl R. The Spanish-American War. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2002. Well-written account of how Spain lost control of the Philippines and of how the United States acquired the territory by paying Spain twenty thousand dollars to cede its rights to the country.
  • Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. One of the most comprehensive studies of the Philippine-United States relationship by an author who has published extensively on Southeast Asia.
  • Lieurance, Suzanne. The Philippines. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2004. A brief, accurate presentation of the history of the Philippines aimed at juvenile readers. Excellent illustrations, valuable supplementary features.
  • Olesky, Walter. The Philippines. New York: Children’s Press, 2000. A comprehensive view of the Philippines from an historical perspective. This beautifully illustrated book is intended for at a young adult audience and contains helpful features such as a time line and a section entitled “Fast Facts.” Chapter 4, “The Long Struggle for Independence,” is especially relevant.
  • Sullivan, Margaret. The Philippines: Pacific Crossroads. New York: Dillon Press, 1993. A valuable study of the strategic position the Philippines holds in southeast Asia.
  • Venzon, Anne Cipriano, ed. America’s War with Spain: A Selected Bibliography. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. Venzon devotes sixteen pages to the Philippines and lists a broad variety of useful sources.

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