Asia’s First Republic

Published January 23, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Manny Villar
Manny Villar

By Manny Villar


Yesterday, January 23, 2018, was the 119th year of the declaration of the First Philippine Republic, popularly known as the Malolos Republic. This is an important historical event for Filipinos because it signified our determination to prove to the world that we are capable of self-rule. It marked an important period in our struggle for independence set into motion by the nationalist writings of Jose Rizal and the revolution led by Andres Bonifacio.

More importantly, the first Philippine Republic is also the first ever republic to be proclaimed in all of Asia. It is an important reminder of our role as the beacon of freedom, independence, and democracy in the region.

The declaration of the First Philippine Republic is an historical event that does not stand alone. It is the result of a series of events that defined our history. As such, Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamation of the Malolos Republic is bookended by Bonifacio’s 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Filipino-American War.

Historical accounts tell us that the proclamation was done amidst colorful ceremonies at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. The pomp and pageantry of the proclamation, however, cannot mask the blood, sweat, and tears sacrificed by Filipinos as they fought valiantly to overthrow 300 years of Spanish colonialism.

By 1898, Filipino revolutionaries were scoring significant victories against Spanish forces and by the middle of that year, the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Pampanga, Bulacan, and the suburbs surrounding Manila had been freed from Spanish control.

Upon the advice of Apolinario Mabini, Aguinaldo moved quickly to formally establish Philippine sovereignty and independence. On June 12, 1898, our independence was proclaimed in Kawit, Cavite where the Philippine Flag was unfurled and waved officially for the first time to the proud cadence of the new national anthem.

Then on June 18 a decree was issued by the revolutionary government establishing a Revolutionary Congress intended to pave the way for the promulgation of laws of the eventual Philippine Republic. It formally convened on September 15, 1898, at Barasoain Church, hence its popular name as the Malolos Congress.

I was reading the account of this historical Congress from the website of Barasoain Church and I could not help but feel proud of what they accomplished in the name of love of country:

“According to witnesses of the historical event, the opening day is glamourous. The houses along the procession route, now called Paseo del Congreso, are filled with colorful decorations with palmera leaves and flags. One hundred and ninety three delegates that represented each province of the Philippines like Fr. Gregorio Aglipay, Felipe Calderon, Antonio Luna, and Teodoro Sandiko. Pedro Paterno was elected as the president of the convention.”

While crafting what would become the Malolos Constitution, the revolutionary Congress also ratified the proclamation of independence in Kawit, Cavite. The Malolos Constitution was approved by the Congress on November 29, 1898, and submitted to Aguinaldo. It was formally adopted on January 20, 1899 and promulgated the following day. The Constitution was said to have been patterned after the Spanish Constitution of 1812, and, according to Felipe Calderon, was also influenced by the basic laws of Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Then on January 23, 1899, the First Philippine Republic was born. While Bonifacio’s revolution signified our intention to challenge Spanish sovereignty over our country and the proclamation of independence announced that we were a free country, the inauguration of the First Philippine Republic proclaimed that we were not just a free people but an independent state capable of self-government.

This republic only lasted two years. When Aguinaldo was captured in Isabela, on March 23, 1901, and when he took the oath of allegiance to the United States nine days later, the proud republic came to an end.

While short-lived, the first Philippine Republic provided an effective counter-argument to the claims of our next colonizer, the Americans, that we were primitive and incapable of self-rule. The Filipino-American War was therefore not just an insurrection, as the US claimed. It was the continuation of the struggle of a proud and free people against colonial powers.