Emilio Aguinaldo, the first elected president of the Philippines, was born on March 22, 1869 in Kawit, Cavite to parents of Chinese and Tagalog origins. As a leader he fought first against Spain and later against the United States for the independence of the Philippines. In 1882 he was inducted into the Katipunan which was a secret revolutionary society that fought bitterly and successfully against the Spanish. Aguinaldo assumed the code name "Magdalo" in honor of Kawit's patron saint, Mary Magdalene.
On August 31, 1896, shortly after the Katipunan was exposed, Aguinaldo disarmed the Spanish guardia civil in Kawit, and the next day he led the capture of the nearby town of Imus. Among the victories that followed, his greatest was the Battle of Binakayan, on Nov 10, 1896, when he defeated Spanish regulars under Governor-General Ramon Blanco.
During the Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897 Aguinaldo was chosen president of the revolutionary government. However, his open and armed opposition against the Spaniards ceased in December 1897 when he signed and agreement called the "Pact of Biac-na-Bato" with the Spanish governor general. He agreed to leave the Philippines and to remain permanently in exile. This agreement was on condition of a substantial financial reward from Spain and the promise of liberal reforms, Philippine representation in the Spanish Parliament, and full civil rights for Filipinos.
While Aguinaldo was in Hong Kong and Singapore he made arrangements with representatives of the American consulates and with Commodore George Dewey to return to the Philippines. He offered to assist the United States in their war against Spain. Upon his return on May 19, 1898, he immediately announced the renewal of the struggle against the Spanish colonizers.
The Filipinos declared their independence of Spain on June 12, 1898. A provisional Republic was proclaimed and Aguinaldo become its president at the age of 29. The following September a revolutionary assembly met and ratified Filipino independence. At about that time however, the Philippines, along with Puerto Rico and Guam, were ceded by Spain to the United States by virtue of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.
Relations between the Americans and the Filipinos became unfriendly and grew steadily worse. On the night of February 4, 1899 the inevitable conflict between the Americans and Filipinos took place. It was on this date that the Philippine-American War broke out. Although the Filipinos fought bravely, they were defeated by the Americans during the many encounters and skirmishes that followed.
While the fighting continued, Aguinaldo issued a proclamation of war against the United States. With the escalation of hostilities, reinforcements arrived from the United States to immediately quell the insurrection. The Filipino government under Aguinaldo fled northward and resorted to guerrilla warfare. However, the American troops were prepared for this type of warfare, and eventually their superior arms and numbers triumphed.
After three years of continued fighting the insurrection was finally brought to an end when General Aguinaldo was captured in his secret headquarters at Palanan, Isabela on March 23, 1901. The daring operation was led and executed by Gen. Frederick Funston with the help of the Macabebe scouts from Pampanga who betrayed Aguinaldo. The Filipino leader surrendered and took his oath of allegiance to the United States on April 1, 1901. He was granted a pension from the U.S. government, and retired to private life. In 1935 when the commonwealth government of the Philippines was established in preparation for independence, Aguinaldo ran for president but was decisively beaten by Manuel L. Quezon. A threat to raise 60,000 veterans to prevent inauguration of Quezon, who he feared would be dictatorial, was peaceably deflected. Again he returned to private life until the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941.
The Japanese used Aguinaldo as an anti-American tool. They caused him to make speeches, sign articles, and to address a radio appeal to Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Corregidor to surrender in order to spare the lives of American and Filipino soldiers. Aguinaldo, however, adamantly refused to join his own ex-general, Artemio Ricarte, who wanted to lead Japanese troops against the Americans.
When the Americans returned to the Philippines toward the end of the war, Aguinaldo was arrested with the others accused of collaborating with the Japanese. He was held for some months in Bilibid prison until his release by presidential amnesty. As a token vindication of his honor, Pres. Elpidio Quirino appointed him as a member of the Council of State in 1950. In the later years of his life, Aguinaldo devoted his major attention to veterans' affairs, the promotion of nationalism and democracy in the Philippines, and the improvement of relations between the Philippines and the United States.
Aguinaldo is best remembered for the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite. This event was certainly the high point in the nation's history. Aguinaldo's term also featured the setting up of the Malolos Republic, which had its own Congress, Constitution, and national and local government officials - proving Filipinos had the capacity to run their country.
He died in Quezon City on February 6, 1964 just a few days before his 95th birthday. He was buried behind his mansion in Kawit, Cavite which had become the center of Independence Day celebrations and a historic showplace.
Aguinaldo married the former Hilaria Del Rosario.