Friday, September 22, 2006

What ifs in Philippine history

By Augusto V. de Viana

Given the benefit of hindsight, we could stretch our imagination on what the country could have been if history had taken a different turn. Could it have been for the better or worse?

What if the Philippines became a German colony?

The Philippines would have been a German colony had a second battle of Manila Bay taken place in 1898. After defeating the Spanish fleet on May 1, 1898, US Rear Admiral George Dewey ordered a blockade of Manila. Other countries like Japan, Great Britain, France and Germany sent naval vessels to protect their nationals and interests in the country. The German squadron under Vice Admiral Otto Von Diederichs, which consisted of five warships and two auxiliaries, outnumbered the Americans.

One ship alone, the transport Darmstadt, carried 1,400 men, nearly the number of Dewey’s men. The Germans violated Dewey’s blockade of Manila by supplying flour to the trapped Spaniards and Spanish ladies and residents were treated aboard the German vessels. German officers also visited Spanish and Filipino outposts. At one time the German warship Irene interfered with the landing of Filipino troops on Grande Island in Zambales that Dewey had to send the cruiser Concord. On seeing the American warship the German vessel quietly left Subic Bay.

At that time Germany was looking for new territories to colonize. It had acquired the eastern half of New Guinea in 1873 and half of Samoa in 1889. In 1876 a German resident of Jolo, Captain Hermann Leopold Schuck, asked Germany to intervene on behalf of the Sultan of Sulu. The sultanate at that time was being attacked by Spanish forces.

The Germans continued to violate the blockade. They took soundings off Malabon and at the mouth of the Pasig River. Von Diederichs himself landed at Manila and occupied one of the quarters of the Spanish officers. The German soldiers occupied the lighthouse of Manila and some of them landed in Mariveles and conducted drills.

They also irritated Dewey by sending a launch one night at 11 p.m. to deliver an unimportant message.


The breaking point came when the German gunboat Cormoran refused to acknowledge signals from the Americans to be boarded for inspection. The boat had to be stopped by firing a shot across its bow. Von Diederichs then sent an officer to complain about Dewey’s provocative acts.

While listening to the German officer, Dewey’s complexion changed from white to red. He then asked: “Does his Excellency [von Diederichs] know that it is my force and not his is that is blockading this port [Manila]?

The officer answered yes.

Dewey continued: “And is he aware that he has no rights except as I choose to allow him and does he realize that he cannot communicate with that city without my permission?”

“One can imagine, sir, that you were conducting this blockade,” was the reply.

Dewey then bluntly asked, “Do you want war with us?”

“Certainly not!” was the officer’s curt reply

“Well, it looks like it, and you are very near it, and . . . you can have it as soon as you like!” replied Dewey with his voice raised so that he could be heard by officers below deck.

The German officer backed in consternation and whispered to Dewey’s flag lieutenant: “Your admiral seems to be much in earnest.” The flag lieutenant replied: “You can be certain that he means every word he says.”

For a while there was a tense situation in Manila Bay. The Germans were superior in both men and firepower to the Americans. At this point the British squadron under Captain Sir Edward Chichester sided with Dewey. The British ship Immortalit’e sailed alongside Dewey’s flagship the Olympia with its band playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The balance now tipped in favor of the Americans and the Germans stopped their provocations.

If a second battle was fought and if the United States were defeated, the Philippines would have become a German colony. The idea would have been supported by the Filipino elite since Germany had a positive image as a rapidly progressive European power. Rizal and other reformists admired Germany, its culture and its industry and hoped that Filipinos imitate the German work ethic known for its emphasis on efficiency and frugality.

The histories of territories which experienced German rule such as the Northern Mariana Islands, remember the period “as the good old days.” Though the natives could not be German citizens, education and health care were extended to the population. The people were allowed to retain their native customs.

The German language was taught in the public schools. The Germans instilled the concept that work itself was a virtue. Order, punctuality, camaraderie and obedience to authority and technical knowledge were taught as desirable characteristics. The measure of progress was the improved standard of living. Most of the natives had a job which provided them with security and necessities in life.

However, if the Philippines became a German colony, Germany’s rule would be a brief one. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Japan rapidly occupied the German Pacific colonies in the Marianas, Palau and the Carolines came under Japanese mandate of the League of Nations.

The Philippines would have suffered the same fate as the former German colonies. Had the Philippines become a Japanese territory from 1914 up to the Second World War, the Filipinos would be fighting on the side of Japan, not the United States, and history would have been vastly different

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