The Commodore George Dewey monument plaque in San Francisco Union Square will finally soon have its inscription include Filipinos as major players when Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 and the Philippines as an independent country after decades of persistent efforts by well-meaning Filipino Americans paid off..
This came about after San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) visual arts committee unanimously favored the proposal to adopt the revised text in the inscription that also mentioned the Philippine American War from the Filipino perspective.
Filipino community leader Rudy Asercion, who was one of the most persistent in having the revised words in the Dewey plaque approved was very happy that the endorsement came during the Filipino American History Month (FAHM).
“Some people celebrate the Filipino American History Month but we are part of making history today with this unanimous approval. It was a big help that the Filipino community, not just by one person or one organization but the whole community, showed and up and spoke in behalf and in favor of the plaque,” Asercion beamed. “Basically we are doing this thing for our children so that they know that rich history of the Filipinos with regards to the Filipino American war.”
Asercion also cited that since there are millions of tourists that flock to Union Square, they will see the inscriptions the conquest of Dewey of the Spanish fleet and the important major part of Filipinos in the Philippine American War on the monument itself, then that will be our community’s legacy.
Another important reason cited by the proponents for the approval of the proposal was the invaluable support that San Francisco Mayor London Breed Filipina senior adviser and concurrent chief of staff Marjohn Philhour who was communicating with the San Francisco Arts Commission on the historical importance of the proposal.
“First Philippine President General Emilio Aguinaldo made sure that we are already independent even before the Americans came to our country after he followed international protocol in declaring Philippine independence. So we were already independent by the time Commodore Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet and not be granted independence by the Americans,”. Asercionelucidated. .
The SFAC will next formally confirm the visual arts committee approval of the proposal on the Dewey monument inscription, including the text and historical accuracy of what is written there, in their November 5 meeting. Asercion will then sit down with cultural affairs director Tom DeCaigny of the Arts Commission so they discuss in what to do next so the revised plaque can be put in place and hopefully be unveiled on October 5, 2019 in time to celebrate Filipino American History Month.
In giving background on efforts for the addendum in the Dewey plaque, lawyer RodelRodis recalled that, as early as 1977, he and Dennis Normandy went to the San Francisco Chronicle to tell them about what they noticed in the inscriptions in the plaque that needed to be corrected.
“After we met with them, Don King wrote a very prominent article in the op-ed section that said Filipinos speak out for change (in) the Union Square monument was causing controversy. The reaction was very positive that people were telling us it is going to happen but somewhere along the line, it just kept getting postponed and we got lost in the shuffle. And we kept following up and nothing happened. Then in 2005 or 2006, Rudy (Asercion) got involved with it and we started drafting the text of the plaque and we went through the different channels to get it to happen and again it failed,” Rodis recalled.
Rodis shared that the plaque will describe what happened on May1, 1898 when Admiral George Dewey sailed Manila Bay, destroyed what was left of the Spanish Armada, brought in about 120,000 American soldiers to occupy the whole country, suppressed the government that was already in place and had over 500,000 Filipinos slaughtered in the Philippine American War.
Speaking for Filipino youth and the millenials, National Federation of Filipino American Association executive director Jason Tengco acknowledged “this is obviously a great step in Filipino American History Month, the intergenerational collaboration you really paved the way for young people to really step up.”
“How many of us have gone to Union Square, seen this monument not knowing what it means or what it stands for but again you have paved the way for us and to so many future generations to learn what it is. With this approved, we now will know our history better,” Tengco admits adding that this also proves that Filipinos can do anything if they work together.
Probably the only witness to the event who is a direct descendant of a historical Filipino figure Cristina Osmeña thought it was a wonderful gesture on the part of the SF Arts Commission to acknowledge this part of Philippine history and to embrace the different cultural perspective and it was very heartwarming for them to do so.
“A lot of students in the U.S. know that it is not referred to as the Philippine American War but as the Spanish American War that belittles the efforts of the Philippines to win their own independence. And we all know that the Philippines won independence from and rebuff Spain in our revolution. So it was quite a gesture to include those words on the Philippine American War and refer to the same instead of the Spanish American war,” Osmeña claims.
Cristina is the great granddaughter of President Sergio Osmeña, the second president of the Philippine Commonwealth who was handed the keys to the newly independent Philippine Republic and the proponent of the peaceful transition out of being a Philippine colony.
Scores of Filipino Americans and non-Filipino supporters showed up at the visual committee hearing and spoke in favor of the inscription correction proposal in the light positive mood that prevailed during the hearing.
The SFAC visual arts committee hearing was headed by DorkaKeehn, Chair and with members Abby SadinSchnair, Barbara Sklar, Susan Pontius and Tom DeCaigny present.
The text of the inscription:
The Battle of Manila Bay and the Philippine American War
The people of the Philippines struggled against Spanish colonial rule for over 300 years. At the outbreak of the Spanish American War, Filipinos joined with American forces and rejoiced in Commodore George Dewey’s decisive defeat of the archipelago’s Spanish fleet in May 1, 1898 Battle of Manila Bay.
Within a month of that naval victory, the Philippines declared its freedom from Spain, marking June 12, 1898 as Philippine Independence Day. Filipinos took the historic occasion to declare their national sovereignty and to establish the first republic of record in Southeast Asia.
The Spanish American War ended with the Treat of Paris in December, 1898. However, the United States’ continued military presence in the Philippines led to the conflict later known as the Philippine American War. In that dark period, 4,400 American soldiers died, together with 20,000 Filipino combatants. Civilian lives lost numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The Philippines remained a colony of the United States from 1899 to 1935, and granted commonwealth status thereafter.
The crucible of World War II bonded together the United States and the Philippines as never before against a common enemy. The extraordinary sacrifice and heroism of Filipinos in that struggle for freedom led to the United States’ acknowledgement of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1946.
Philippine American War Centennial Committee
San Francisco, California 2018