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Was Aguinaldo a Japanese Collaborator and Traitor?

There is no denying that Aguinaldo, along with prominent Filipinos, participated in establishing the Japanese-sponsored second Philippine Republic and cooperated with the Japanese propaganda corp. However, in so doing he was motivated by what he understood was a gratuitous act of the Japanese in granting the Filipinos their independence which was denied by the Americans for 45 years, and all the other things he did was give the Japanese-sponsored Filipino republic a chance to succeed.

The Japanese invasion

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the United States declared war on Japan. Similarly, the Philippine Commonwealth government, being an adjunct of the United States government, did the same. The Filipinos who were neither citizens of the United States nor of a free and independent sovereign state were caught in the middle. When the Japanese Imperial Army entered and occupied Manila on January 2, 1942, the United States Army and the Philippine scouts took refuge in Bataan and Corregidor.

Then McArthur left for the United States and so did Manuel L. Quezon, the president of the Commonwealth, including Sergio Osmena and other officials. Eventually, the combined Filipino and American defenders surrendered, which ushered the period of guerrilla warfare. The shift to guerrilla warfare did not change the character of the war, it was still a war between two powers - the United States and Japan. This time the Filipinos were split - the guerrillas, taking orders from the USAFFE, sided with the United States, while the members of Artemio Ricarte's MAKAPILI (or Makabayang Katipunan ng mga Pilipino) and, to a certain extent, the so-called collaborators, sided with the Japanese.

Jose P. Laurel, the man who would occupy the highest position in the Japanese sponsored second Filipino Republic believed that the sovereignty of the United States had disappeared. It failed to protect the Philippines or even prepare the Filipinos to defend the country. He said it was useless to continue the unequal struggle and a message was sent to Quezon and the American president to order the cessation of hostilities to save Filipino lives. (de Viana, 40)

The Japanese-sponsored Government

The first major act by the occupying Japanese forces was the formation in January 26, 1942, of the Philippine Executive Commission that was clothed with both legislative and judicial powers which administered the affairs of government. Jorge B. Vargas, the Commonwealth official left behind and assigned by Quezon to represent the Commonwealth government in dealing with the Japanese invaders was designated head and the following were appointed to the respective positions: Benigno Aquino, Sr., commissioner of the Interior; Jose P. Laurel, Justice; Rafael Alunan, agriculture and commerce; Quintin Paredes, public works and communications; Claro M. Recto, Education, Health and Public Welfare; Serafin Marabut, Executive Commissioner and Teofilo Sison, Auditor General and Chief of the Budget (de Viana, 31).

Vargas later formed a consultative body to give advice to the Commission and appointed several persons among them Emilio Aguinaldo. The other members were: Ramon Avancena, Alejandro Roces and Miguel Unson (de Viana, 32). The commission, however, was unable to act on its own and more often the Japanese interfered with the decisions and eventually, the Commission operated on a recommendatory basis.

As early as January 21, 1942, Japanese Premier Tojo said that Japan would "... gladly grant the Philippines its independence so long as it cooperates and recognizes Japan's program in establishing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." (Hartendorp, 468). As a step toward this direction, all political parties were dissolved in December (1942), and an organization called KALIBAPI (Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas) was formed. Among the associations dissolved and forced to join the KALIBAPI was the veterans association headed by Aguinaldo whose objection was ignored by the Japanese. 

The Second Philippine Republic

After some time, the Japanese Imperial Army announced that Burma was granted independence by the Japanese government and the Philippines will follow suit on condition of tangible cooperation in a shortest possible time. On October 23, 1943, the second Filipino republic under Japanese sponsorship was established. Jose P. Laurel was elected President by the national assembly composed of provincial governors and mayors.

The first important task assigned by the Japanese military to the new government was to declare war on the United States and the alllied powers. President Laurel dilly-dallied and tried to sidestep the order. He feared that once the Philippines is allied with Japan in the war against the United States the conscription of Filipinos to serve in the Japanese army would follow, which he did not want to authorize through a formal declaration of war against the United States. Eventually, the Japanese military settled for Laurel's proposal to declare that a "state of war" existed in the country. This was entirely a different situation because it presupposed that the Philippine government was not at war with anyone, not with the Japanese, nor with the Americans.

It is important to note that President Laurel declared Manila an open city, which actually meant, neutrality, to save it from the destruction wrought by the war. And it was not the Japanese war machine that destroyed the city. It was the rain of American bombs which was done to soften Japanese resistance to an American invasion and ensure their citizens who were incarcerated at the University of Santo Tomas were safe. 

Aguinaldo's Participation

Given these conditions, the former President of the first Philippine Republic and former General of the Revolution, Emilio Aguinaldo, participated and contributed to the creation of the second Filipino Republic. First, he accepted membership in the Council of State, which initially served as a consultative body to the Philippine Executive Commission. Then, he was nominated a member of the PCPI, or Philippine Committee for Philippine Independence, which drafted the constitution of the proposed Philippine republic. And during the inauguration of this republic, Aguinaldo was prominently active. He and his former General, Artemio Ricarte, hoisted the Filipino flag, which flew the skies for the first time since the first day of the Japanese occupation.

But the most controversial of all that Aguinaldo did was his participation in the radio broadcast by the Japanese propaganda corps. His first broadcast asked Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon to come out of Corregidor island to lead the nation in administering the new government-sponsored by the Japanese. Then, his other broadcast asked General MacArthur to surrender, and, finally, one of his last broadcasts was a call for the guerrillas to come out and surrender and give up the fight.

Aguinaldo's reason for making the appeal was to stop the hostilities and prevent further loss of Filipino lives in view of what Aguinaldo considered the superiority of Japanese arms. This parallels with what he did after his capture by the Americans on March 23, 1901, when he called upon the Filipino Republican Army commanders in the field to surrender and lay down their arms to prevent further bloodshed, in view of the superiority of American arms. Aguinaldo also did some traveling to the provinces, contacting his former officers in the Revolution, seeking their help in implementing the Japanese pacification campaign.

After the defeat and surrender of Japan, Aguinaldo was arrested on March 8, 1945, by the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) of the United States Army and incarcerated in the Bilibid prison (de Viana, 114). After four days, he was released on condition that he was under house arrest. He was charged with 15 counts of treason along with 5,556 other persons charged with treason by the Prosecutor's Office. The more prominent persons who were similarly charged were President Jose P. Laurel who had 130 counts of treason; Jorge B. Vargas who had 115 counts, Benigno Aquino, Sr., 111; Leon Guinto, 68; Claro M. Recto, 26; Quintin Paredes 20; Antonio de las Alas, 20, Camilo Osias, 14; Emiliano Tria Tirona, 13; Hilario Moncado, 15; Vicente Madrigal, 17; Pedro Subido, 8; Gen. Guillermo Francisco, 22; Francisco Lozada, 10 and Antonio Torres, 4 (de Viana, 129)

President Roxas Amnesty Proclamation

Aguinaldo's case was never tried in the People's Court. On January 28, 1948, Pres. Manuel Roxas, the president-elect of the 3rd Philippine Republic, whose acts of collaboration with the Japanese were immediately absolved by MacArthur, issued Proclamation no. 51 which granted amnesty to all political and economic collaborators (de Viana, 191). It was a jubilation day for most of those accused of treason, but a few like Laurel and Recto had misgivings because it deprived them of the opportunity to prove their innocence. A day after the amnesty proclamation, the People's Court dismissed the treason cases of Aguinaldo.

After the dismissal of his cases, Aguinaldo returned to his hometown in Kawit, Cavite "to quietly spend the twilight years of his life. Although he appeared in public in 1950 when Pres. Elpidio Quirino appointed him a member of the Council of State in Malacañang, he returned to retirement soon after, dedicating his time and attention to veteran soldiers’ "interests and welfare". When Pres. Diosdado Macapagal moved the celebration of Independence Day in 1962 from 4 July to 12 June, Aguinaldo made sure to attend that year’s commemoration despite poor health and illness..." (Ara, 185)

The question may be asked why the collaboration cases were not tried to conclusion. President Roxas did not explain why he issued the amnesty, except for saying that he belabored it for days. Perhaps, being a collaborator himself and shielded from the shame of being accused and incarcerated through the absolution granted by General MacArthur, he must have felt an obligation to grant similar relief to his colleagues and countrymen.

In hindsight, there was apparently a legal complication. At the time of the Japanese invasion, the Filipinos were not free and independent people. The country was still a territory of the United States but the people were not American citizens. The Commonwealth was not a government established by the Filipino people, rather, it was a government imposed on them by the American colonizers. After the expiration of the 10-year period, the Commonwealth government was supplanted by the third Philippine Republic which was inaugurated on July 4, 1946, with Manuel Roxas as President. This happened while the collaboration cases were still pending with the People's Court.

Note that the arrests of those accused of treason were made by the American agency, the CIC, but the trial was not performed by the U.S. Government because it no longer had a personality in the Philippines after the country was declared independent. What should have been done was extend the life of the defunct Commonwealth government so that the Americans would keep and maintain authority over the affairs of the country and still hold the authority to try the collaboration cases, but that would have meant that the burden of reconstruction and rehabilitation on account of the destruction wrought by war would have been placed on the shoulders of the Americans. It would have required the United States to do a Marshal-plan type reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Philippines.  

Then there was a proposal to repatriate the accused to the United States where the trial should have been conducted, but how could the accused who were not citizens of the United States commit a crime of treason against the United States? In the end, the accused were turned over to the newly proclaimed third Philippine Republic. It seems odd, however, that the plaintiff was a government that did not exist during the Japanese times. So, how could there be a crime committed against a non-existent government?  

It seems that the haste to grant Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, notwithstanding that the country was in shambles by the ravages of war and the people were unprepared to handle a devastated economy was a condition favorable to the fate of the so-called collaborators.  

When is Collaboration a Crime?

But for purposes of discussion what would ordinarily constitute collaboration? A simplified theory was expressed in this manner: "Everybody was a collaborator during the war. It was said that everyone who used Japanese-issued war notes better known as Mickey Mouse money were collaborators. The use of notes during the Japanese occupation was an act of collaboration. ... Collaboration is a myth or everyone was guilty of it." (De Viana, citing Teodoro Locsin, summing up the stand of the Liberal Party on Collaboration, March 22, 1952).

And when is collaboration treasonous? Collaboration in its legal sense generally refers to the willful acts by a country's citizens in assisting a foreign enemy to conquer or weaken the country in time of conflict. Collaborators operate against their own country's interest. They contribute to its destruction by weakening its capability to resist the enemy or by later helping in its administration under the enemy's control. (De Viana, 3)

There are two categories of collaboration. First, the act of cooperating with the enemy as may be required by the invading forces in furtherance of their military objectives, short of taking an oath of allegiance. This type of collaboration does not constitute a crime of treason. The other category of collaboration, one that constitutes treason, involves, in addition to the first type, an element of betrayal of one's country.

Aguinaldo did not Commit a Crime

Aguinaldo's act of collaboration falls under the first type because there was no element of betrayal of his country. His country was the Philippines which was a colony of the United States at the time. His obligation was towards the oath of allegiance he took in favor of the United States. However, he was not a citizen of the United States and therefore he could not be held accountable for the alleged crime of treason against a country of which he was not a citizen. The fact is, his motivations for cooperating with the Japanese were influenced by their grant of independence to the Filipinos which had been denied to them by the Americans for over 45 years.

It is clear that what attracted Aguinaldo towards the Japanese was the immediate realization of an independent Filipino republic as first announced by Japanese Premier Tojo in January 1942. Perhaps, he became impatient with having to go through the 10-year Commonwealth period. He probably could not understand why the Americans were taking more than forty-five years to determine if the Filipinos were fit to run their own government. He must have doubted the sincerity of the Americans and perhaps suspected that they will likely extend the Commonwealth period, or perhaps imposed restrictions or compensation such as the ones that came after the grant of independence in 1946. He must have decided to put his trust on the Japanese because during the Philippine-American war some years back they actually supported him with arms and military advisers.

Aguinaldo expressed this sentiment when he said: "Japan was the only nation in Asia overwhelming Western power in the region. I cannot trust the white race anymore particularly American people in pursuing our independence movement" (Ara, 175). He continued to suspect the Americans were out to trick the Filipinos again as he had personally experienced with them, first, in masquerading an alliance with him and then being pushed aside and withholding the promise to respect the Filipino aspiration for independence after the Spaniards were defeated. How could he forget how everything that he had accomplished with so much sacrifice of life and property, the most valuable of them all, the ultimate prize of all, the first Philippine Republic, was ignored and destroyed by the Americans?

He further expressed his apprehensions on American colonialism when he said: “She [the US] could have been noble and magnanimous then by recognizing the Republic that we have already established. Instead, she chose the role of a selfish colonizer and would not agree to set us free by 1946 if our products had not competed with her in her own market.” and reiterated what he mentioned in his speech, viz: "...describing the independence to be granted by Japan as “the potent remedy for eradicating American influence which has been rooted deeply in these islands for the last 45 years” and as “the key to complete peace in the country.” (Ara, 177)

Clearly, all that Aguinaldo wanted was independence for the Philippines, the realization of his aspirations that he had fought so hard and for so long. The Americans were taking a long time to make that happen. And the Japanese had overtaken them with an offer of independence and actually inaugurated a republic on October 23, 1943, after only a very short period of time. Given what Aguinaldo had gone through in his dealings with the Americans from the time he was approached by Consul Spencer Pratt in Singapore on April 22, 1898, offering to commence the renewal of the revolution in cooperation with Commodore Dewey would clearly explain why he had lost trust and confidence on the Americans.

Why is Aguinaldo being Singled Out?

The Filipino people is unique in terms of experience with colonial powers – first, the 300 years with the Spaniards, then the almost 50 years with the United States, and finally, a little over 3 years with the Japanese. In the intervening periods of overlap of sovereignty that was interrupted by the first Philippine republic of President Emilio Aguinaldo, certain acts that might be considered as anti-Filipino had been committed by leading Filipinos, as follows:

1. Rizal rejecting the plan of revolt by the Katipunan and petitioning the Governor General for him to serve as a medical officer of the Spanish army in Cuba;

2. Antonio Luna rejecting the offer of Bonifacio to join the Katipunan, then squealing on Rizal as head of the La Liga Filipina and pointing to the other members;

3. Bonifacio writing a bogus list of contributors and sympathizers of the Katipunan resulting in the arrest and execution of the innocent, one of which was the millionaire, Francisco Rojas;

4. The thousands of native recruits that enlisted in the Spanish army, notably the Macabebes, fighting and killing the patriotic revolutionaries;

5. General Artemio Ricarte, on orders of Andres Bonifacio, withholding support to the Magdalo led by Jefe Abanderado Aguinaldo during the battle of Pasong Santol, in Dasmarinas Cavite, resulting in the defeat of the Magdalo forces and death of Kapitan Marcela Marcelo and Aguinaldo's brother, Crispulo;

6. Bonifacio and 40 other members of the Magdiwang Katipunan council, including two generals of the Magdalo, launching a coup d'etat against the newly formed government headed by President-elect Emilio Aguinaldo;

7. Paciano Rizal, Artemio Ricarte, Pedro Paterno, Isabelo Artacho, Francisco Makabulos and the rest of stay-behind leaders of the revolution demanding and receiving a share in the P200,000 second installment of the Biak-na-bato money, which, according to Aguinaldo, was supposed to be a public trust fund;

8. Isabelo Artacho filing a suit against Aguinaldo for the partitioning of the P400,000 first installment of the Biak-na-bato money deposited in Hong Kong which was supposed to be a public trust fund;

9. Jose Basa and several other Hong Kong exiles submitting a petition to the representative of the United States government expressing allegiance and desire to become United States citizens while the revolutionary army of President Aguinaldo was waging a war;

10. Pablo Padilla, Emiliano Riego de Dios, Baldomero Aguinaldo, Mariano Trias, Artemio Ricarte, Pio del Pilar, Mariano Luna, and other former leaders of the revolution
answering the call of Spanish Governor-General Agustin to form a militia to fight alongside the Spaniards against the invasion by the Americans.

11. Generals Licerio Geronimo, Juan Cailles, and Mariano Trias, surrendering to the US military and enlisting into the Philippine scouts and going after the Filipino Republican Army guerrillas, resulting in the killing of General Luciano San Miguel;

12. The hundreds of "Americanistas" among them the likes of Lazaro Segovia, Hilario Tal Placido, Roman Roque and several others allowing themselves to be used by the Americans against the Filipino Republican army while the war was still raging and resulting in the capture of President Emilio Aguinaldo;

13. Apolinario Mabini and the rest of the exiles of the Marianas taking the oath of allegiance to the United States in exchange for being allowed to return to the country;

14. Pedro Paterno, Felipe Buencamino, Benito Legarda, Florentino Torres, Pardo H. De Tavera, and several others, forming the Federal Party and going around the country, encouraging the Filipino Republican Army guerrillas to surrender and later accepting high positions in the American colonial government;

15. Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Antonio de las Alas, Rafael Alunan, Jr., Benigno Aquino Sr., Melecio Arnaiz, Ramon Avancena, Manuel C. Briones, Vicente Madrigal, Camilo Osias, Quintin Paredes, Claro M. Recto, Manuel Roxas, Pedro Subido, Sultan sa Ramain, Teofilo Sison, Emiliano Tria Tirona, Miguel Unson, Jorge B. Vargas and Jose Yulo, Serafin Marabut, Elpidio Quirino, Esteban de la Rama, Guillermo Francisco, Pio Duran, Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr., Artemio Ricarte, Leon Guinto, Archbishop Gabriel Reyes and Bishop Enrique Sobrepena who accepted membership in the Council of State and the PCPI and later as key officers of the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic who have been accused of treason by collaboration with the Japanese.

Most of the above mentioned Filipinos are today considered heroes as seen in the names of major streets and places of Manila and in the provinces. Indeed, it would seem that our concept of heroism is somewhat convoluted. It is, and this is due of the overlapping pattern of our colonial experience, interspersed with the struggle for national liberation, and extending up to this day and age, by the heirs of the legacy of the Philippine revolution who continue to aspire for true freedom and independence.

But the question that the present generation of Filipinos needs to answer is this: why is Emilio Aguinaldo being singled out with the accusation of collaborator and traitor?

1. De Viana, Augusto V.: "Kulaboretor, the Issue of Political Collaboration during World War II", University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, 2003;

2. Hartendorp, A. V. H.: "Short History of Industry and Trade in the Philippines, Period of Japanese Occupation", The Journal, The American Chamber of Commerce, 1952; and

3. Ara, Satoshi: "Emilio Aguinaldo Under American and Japanese Rule: Submission for Independence?", An article in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, Ateneo de Manila University, July 2015.


This post first appeared on Aguinaldo - A Tarnished Hero, please read the originial post: here

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Was Aguinaldo a Japanese Collaborator and Traitor?


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