The United States saw its initial involvement with the Philippines in the late 19th century. In 1898, the Spanish-American War began with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana, but it only lasted that one year as the Treaty of Paris ended the conflict on December 10. As a result of the agreement that ended the war, Spain would lose control over the remains of its empire. That included Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.
It turned out that the United States was not really in the mood to become a colonial empire. Americans had once been a colony themselves, and they didn’t have the stomach in the early 20th century to hold onto their new possessions won from Spain. The largest of these possessions was the Philippines, which was granted independence 40 years after being ceded from Spain.
Some thought has been given to the pros and cons of annexing the Philippines back into the United States. It could reinforce American interests in the region, reduce crime on the islands, and support a more democratic government. It would also return the U.S. to its colonial roots, which is an outcome that many people do not want.
List of the Pros of the Annexation of the Philippines
1. The United States already provides for the mutual defense of the islands.
The United States signed a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951. That document was reaffirmed in 2011 with what is known as the Manila Declaration. The reality of this agreement is that the Philippines do not have the military resources to adequately protect the United States if a major conflict were to erupt. If someone were to invade the islands, then the U.S. would be obligated to defend the Philippines – even if that meant a declaration of war. Proponents of annexation would argue that the relationship is essentially one-side already. Making the island a territory once again could be beneficial to both parties.
2. There is already a significant presence of Americans on the islands.
There are an estimated 220,000 American citizens living in the Philippines today. This figure includes a significant number of military veterans. About 700,000 people travel to the islands every year to visit for various reasons as well. There are several people-to-people programs that exist between the two countries, facilitating movement back and forth. Manila is even home to a VA benefits office and healthcare clinic, the only one of its type outside of the United States.
There is also the American Military Cemetery in Manila, which is the largest one outside of the U.S. as well. Annexing the islands would allow the American government to reinforce many of the benefits it already provides.
3. Millions of dollars in aid already flow to the Philippines each year.
Over the past 10 years, the amount of disaster relief and recovery funds sent from the United States to the Philippines has continued to rise. More than $143 million has already transferred hands because of typhoon relief efforts. Another $26 million goes toward the humanitarian efforts that are present in Marawi. About $27 billion in goods and services travel between the two countries each year. These key economic links could grow stronger if the idea of annexation were to gain some steam once again.
4. It would reduce the uncertainty that exists in the South China Sea.
China decided to seize Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 despite a U.S. effort by the Obama Administration to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of vessels. When there were concerns that China would target the Senkaku Islands administered in Japan, Americans reaffirmed that they were covered by Article V of the U.S.-Japan treaty for mutual defense. That document has almost identical language to its U.S.-Philippines treaty that does the same thing.
During a visit to Manila, Obama refused to offer clarification to the Philippines regarding their status with Scarborough Shoal. There is a lot of uncertainty because of this action that would go away if annexation were to occur.
5. There is global precedent for such an action to take place.
Texas was an independent republic that voted to allow its annexation into the United States. It helped that there were a large number of Americans that move there to facilitate that vote, but it also happened nonetheless. The U.S. annexed Hawaii when businessmen became so powerful on the islands that they were able to overthrow the ruling monarchy. The United Nations proclaimed after the events of World War II that military annexation is illegal, which is why Russia’s actions in Crimea are so problematic. If the population of the Philippines was to receive constitutional protections in the U.S. once again, then they could benefit from the economic advantages that being an American can provide.
They would need to do so voluntarily to stay in compliance with global standards, but it would also be possible to get it done in this modern time.
6. It would provide stability to the Filipino government.
The October 23, 2019 headline from The Washington Post sums up the state of the Filipino government today: “Thousands dead. Police accused of criminal acts. Yet Duterte’s drug war is wildly popular.” The actions of the government have drawn global condemnation. The country’s police chief recently resigned over an accusation that he allowed more than a dozen officers to resell confiscated drugs. Duterte even said that the best way to eradicate the crime was to kill the criminals.
Duterte might have a 78% satisfaction rating, but it does not mean that the government is stable. Instead of cracking down on the poorest citizens of the country, annexation would allow the U.S. government to step in and provide needed resources to lift the economic welfare of everyone.
7. The Filipino economy is powered by young workers.
American industries are struggling with an aging workforce in many areas. One of the reasons for outsourcing in the first place is to recruit young talent that has enough expertise to be useful. Most Filipino students seek out employment opportunities as soon as they graduate from school to support their families. That means there are half a million young people ready to start working each year, and they could help to shore up the shortages that some businesses are seeing.
There is a strong fear of poverty in the employment demographics in the Philippines that would benefit productivity. About 10 million families don’t meet the income threshold of $168 per month for basic food and housing requirements. Those who have jobs don’t want to join those ranks, so they work hard to make a better life for themselves.
8. It could strike a blow for freedom and capitalism in a place where Communism exists.
The McKinley Administration believed that the end of Spanish rule in the Philippines would stop imperialism, promote capitalism, and foster a desire for freedom. Most of the administrations during the 19th and early 20th centuries used traditional terms for that form of government. Even though American administration of the islands created a different species of imperialism, having a robust democratic government near powers like Russia and China could help to stabilize the region.
9. The U.S. already paid for the right of ownership over the islands.
When the United States signed the Treaty of Paris with Spain in 1898, the federal government agreed to pay $20 million for the right to territorialize Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The latter was hoping that this action would grant them independence, but things didn’t go that way. Over 220,000 people lost their lives in resistance efforts against the U.S. government until full independence was granted in 1946.
Proponents can argue that the payment made to acquire the Philippines allows the U.S. to have the first right of annexation. Even though the federal government granted full independence after World War II, the ability to reacquire might not legally go away.
List of the Cons of the Annexation of the Philippines
1. There were plenty of people who were not comfortable with the first annexation.
A majority of the people in the United States were not supportive of the initial annexation of the Philippines. Because of this attitude, the islands were declared to be a commonwealth in the 1930s. The only reason why the United States did not grant full independence earlier than 1946 was because the Japanese invaded Manila the day after they sprang their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The feeling is mutual in the Philippines. The U.S. granted their independence on July 4, 1946, but the country celebrates its Independence Day on June 12 when it became free of Spain during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
2. The Philippines would lose its independence.
Annexation would require the Philippines to lose their independence. They would likely become a state of their own if such a scenario were to occur. That means the population swing would be significant in the representation they would receive in Congress unless they were to remain a territory. The U.S. population would rise by 25% overnight if the islands were admitted into the Union.
Territories do not get a vote in Congress. The Philippines would send a delegate as they did before to sit on committees or debate laws. There would be delegates sent to political conventions. It would create a lack of representation despite the presence of some federal taxation.
3. Federal aid levels would need to be significant in the Philippines.
The standard of living in the Philippines is very different from what is found in the United States. A reasonable outsourcing salary in the country is equivalent to about $500 per month. Professionals on the islands earn up to 90% less than their American counterparts despite having similar responsibilities. If the U.S. were to proceed with annexation, then the standards would change for the islands so that they became reflective of the rest of what Americans experience.
That would mean a significant amount of aid would be necessary to reform the Filipino economy. This disadvantage would require a significant investment from the American taxpayer, stretch Social Security thin, and create more pressure on food and emergency aid services than if the islands were to stay independent.
4. It would cause more tension between the U.S., China, and Russia.
The United States deciding to annex the Philippines would create new American interests that have direct impacts on the welfare of the mainland. There would be more options for conflict in the South China Seas because the Filipino interests would shift to the U.S. for direct enforcement. That could put the federal government at odds with China and Russia in ways that could escalate tensions in ways not seen since the Cold War.
5. Most discretionary spending in the Philippines goes to food.
The average family in the Philippines spends over 41% of their wages on food. That equates to about $125 per month. That means there may be less than $40 per month to take care of everything else that is necessary for a basic standard of living. If the U.S. were to continue with the existing economic structure, a wage of $300 per month would be something that critics would call “slave labor” since that equals what some U.S. workers get in a day.
Salaries are remarkably low in the Philippines, and that would need to change dramatically. A senior project manager only earns $21,000 per year. An entry-level accountant would get $4,700 per year.
6. It would be an echo of the manifest destiny doctrine.
The manifest destiny doctrine of the United States was a 19th-century perspective that drove the westward territorial expansion of the country. It held that the U.S. was destined by God to expand its dominion, spreading capitalism and democracy everywhere across North America. The idea to annex the Philippines would take on a similar approach. It is essential to remember that American imperialism was not representative of a consensus of the entire population. It was often a topic of bitter dissent.
Once one country begins to think that it is superior to all others and has God supporting those actions, then almost anything can happen. Many of the wars started in the 19th century that involved the United States had manifest destiny as part of the problem. Could the U.S. manage another war while it continues to fight in Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East?
7. Most people in the Philippines do not want this outcome.
The initial resistance to the idea of the U.S. gaining control over the Philippines was fierce and profound. Resistance groups fought the American government for years to express their displeasure at the results from the Treaty of Paris. It led to a series of combat outposts, patrols, and local forces training that is similar to what we see today in Iraq. The nationalists were eventually stopped and the government stabilized, but that doesn’t mean the people wanted that outcome.
If Filipinos hadn’t fought side-by-side with Americans in the Pacific theater, the federal government may not have ever allowed for complete independence.
8. It would set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world.
If the United States were to annex the Philippines, then it would create a precedent that other players on the global stage would use to justify their own actions. Imagine the people of Washington State voting to allow Canada to annex them away from the Union, or Crimea voting to let Russia annex them from Ukraine. Even towns could feasibly vote on annexation legislation to become autonomous cities like Ceuta and Melilla are in African for Spain. It could upend the way that governments can rule and provide for the mutual defense of others, resulting in a patchwork of borders that is even more confusing than what we have present in today’s world.
Americans quickly realized that the idea of becoming a colonial power was not a good one. There are several challenges that must be solved to administer a territory like the Philippines that is so far away from the mainland. All of the challenges that come with the efforts to support the citizens of Puerto Rico would be magnified tenfold if annexation were to occur with the chain of islands today.
The past benefits of annexation helped to bring the Philippines toward its status as a modern nation. It still receives mutual defense benefits and close ties to the United States because of this close relationship.
The pros and cons of the annexation of the Philippines show that the alliance formed is useful. It may not have many modern benefits to consider, but there could be interests in countering claims from China over the South China Sea and other territorial concerns.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.