Philippine Genocide? The Numbers Don’t Add Up

Philippine Genocide? The Numbers Don’t Add Up

(The following is based on several discussion on the Facebook Philippine American War groupi, we are grateful for the immense wealth of expertise and enthusiasm in researching this issue.)

We cannot know for sure how many died during the conflict of 1899-1902. Estimates of actual combatants range from 25,000 to 36,000 but the main controversy relates to how many civilians died during the conflict, estimates range from 200,000 to 3 million and whether those were deliberate or unintentional.

No estimate has been made in the available literature of civilian casualties during the 1896-1898 revolution nor of civilians killed by Filipino Republican forces during the Philippine-American Warii.

Census figures are immensely problematic especially when comparing the census carried out under the Spanish regime for pre-1899 figures and those under the American regime for the post-1899 period due to different methodologies. Some of the issues are covered in a briefing for the Senate Committee on the Philippine of 1902 (See Appendix).

Many of the Spanish estimates were based on those who paid tributes/taxes. Funds from central authorities were paid on the basis of these figures. To add to the confusion, in some areas, such as Samar, there was a campaign to bring hillspeople to formalise their existence and come ‘under the bells’. By delinking taxes paid with actual population it may well be that populations were over-estiated in some placesiii.

It should be noted that in the years leading up to the Philippine-American War the islands were undergoing a mortality crisis. More and more Filipinos were dying each year from disease as a result of social and economic changes unrelated to conflict. For a fuller discussion refer to Ken De Bevoise book Agents of Apocalypseiv

This FAQ is intended to address the estimates of the number of casualties during the 1899-1902 conflict.

Three million Filipinos died”

There are two primary sources for this estimate: Writer Gore Vidal and a error in a Spanish census.

Gore Vidal

In an article entitled American Sissy in the August 13, 1981 edition of the New York Review of Books (NYR)v, Vidal wrote that three million Filipinos died. He claimed this figure came from Bernard Fall’s The Two Viet-Namsvi. Fall actually estimates 300,000 but Vidal had not actually read the source he cited, instead he borrowed it from a publication that cited Fall but added an extra zero in a typographical error in a history of the West Point military academy, West Point: America’s Power Fraternity by K.B. Galloway and R.B. Johnson, Jr.vii which Vidal had once reviewed.

Vidal has admitted the error in Death in the Philippines, December 17, 1981 edition of the New York Review of Books therefore his estimate must be set asideviii.

Spanish Census Error

The claim is that the 1898 Spanish Census showed nearly 10 million population while the 1902 American Census published in 1903 showed a little under 7 million, a difference of about three million.

There was in fact no census carried out in 1898 but an estimate was made in the Guia Oficial in which there was a typographical error that inverted a figure 6 into a figure 9. This error was later corrected by Father Algué, a Spanish priest who headed the Manila Observatory in the late 19th century, as the figure from 1899.

How do we know this is an error? Because the estimates for the two years previously are about 5.5 million with a small increase between 1896 and 1897. An increase of 4 million in a single year to more than 9 million is impossible, regardless of the virility of the Filipino or the fecundity of the Filipina.

Here are the raw figures as given in the 1903 Philippine Censusix.


Original copies of the Spanish estimates contain the 9,703,311 and since it was Father Algué, a Spaniard, who corrected the figure it would be fanciful to suggest that the correction was made by the Americans to conceal the 3m drop.

A few pages later is the following corrected table:


1.4 Million

This usually comes from writers quoting literary critic E. San Juan Jr. who gives it in numerous articlesx. It is claimed to be the figure for 1899-1905.

In An African American Soldier in the Philippine Revolution: An Homage to David Fagenxi he cites Luzvimida Francisco: “Filipina historian Luzviminda Francisco arrives at the figure of 1.4 million Filipinos”xii

He is citing Ms Francisco’s The First Vietnam: The U.S.-Philippine War of 1899 in which she does not conclude any such figure. The figures she does mention includes the supposed Bell estimate of 600,000 in Luzon alone, which is dealt with below but suffice to say the figure is dubiousxiii.

E. San Juan’s own cited source does not support the figure he claims. He may have some other source which he has not shared with us.

Should data become available that will enable us to examine this figure more closely we will do so.

Why is it important to determine E. San Juan’s sources? In part that is answered by San Juan’s quoting of Karnow’s In Our Image in numerous articles: “Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image (1989), the acclaimed history of this intervention, quotes the figure of 200,000 Filipinos killed in outright fighting.”xiv. What Karnow actually said was: “”The U.S. forces, by their own count, killed some twenty thousand native soldiers. As many as two hundred thousand civilians may also have died from famine and various other causes, including atrocities commited by both sides.”xv

1 Million

Manuel Arellano Remondo, in General Geography of the Philippine Islands: “The population decreased due to the wars, in the five-year period from 1895 to 1900, since, at the start of the first insurrection, the population was estimated at 9,000,000, and at present (1908), the inhabitants of the Archipelago do not exceed 8,000,000 in number.”

It is one of the few estimates that includes the revolution against Spain.

This statement is frequently circulated having appeared in Max Boot’s Savage Wars of Peace.

Remondo was a Spanish Dominican friar who taught at the University of Santo Tomas who arrived in the Philippines in 1895xvi.

Where Remondo got the figure of 9 million for 1895 is not known, it is roughly 3.5 million more than that given in the Guia Oficial for that year, as seen in the above table. For 1908 the estimate is indeed 8 million, roughly 2.5 million more than in 1895.


This is the figure given by Ken De Bevoise in Agents of Apocalypse: Epidemic Disease in the Colonial Philippines. De Bevoise examined Spanish and American health records.

Franklin Bell’s 600,000

General James Franklin Bell made no such estimate. Nor did anyone else called Bell.

An entirely different General Bell, James M Bell, was reported on the front page of the The New York Times, May 2, 1901: “one-sixth of the natives of Luzon have either been killed or have died of the dengue fever in the last two years.” However, this Bell was only covering three provinces in southern Luzon, the hemp growing areas and had no experience elsewhere.

Here is the report:

We have not been able to determine who translated one sixth into 600,000, an estimate that was repeated and repeatedly creditted to the wrong general for several decades. One can reasonably suggest that someone applied one sixth to the total population of Luzon at the time to come up with the figure of 600,000,

It has been suggested that James Bell extrapolated from deaths in his own area to Luzon.

He commanded forces in Camarines, Albay and Sorsogon which have a total population of 600, 226xvii. One sixth would have been 100,000 but there is nothing to even slightly suggest that his operations plus disease resulted in a death total of that magnitude.

One humbly suggests that in the comments to the reporter – and there was only one report, taken by wire to other newspapers, so one cannot cross check with other independent reports – James Bell said that his area comprised one sixth of the population of Luzon and that there had been deaths from dengue and the fighting.

It may simply have been a matter of misreportage.

200,000 to 300,000

Various authors provide figures in the above bracket have been presented by various authors from John M. Gatesxviii and Karnow to Bernard Fall. Give that more than 200,000 died of Cholera and Small Pox alone in 1902, when two Cholera epidemics swept through the country, it is likely that these are under-estimates and that De Bevoise’s figure of 775,000, around 10 per cent of the entire population, is closer to actual losses.


Genocide is the deliberate attempt to exterminate a people as a matter of state policy.

There is no evidence that the disease burden that killed so many was introduced or propagated deliberately and much evidence of intense efforts made to mitigate their effects. Franklin Bell’s insistence on mandatory smallpox vaccinations in the reconcentration camps of Batangas show that serious efforts were, in fact, made to reducexix the disease death toll.

It is notable that little to none of the evidence available is of the quality of that in other areas where genocides are known have taken placexx. In Cambodia, for instance, the evidence for the genocide that occurred under the Khmer Rouge is undeniable. It had roughly the same level of population, the Khmer Rouge period lasted about a long as the Philippine-American War, and caualties were on a similar scale to those claimed at the higher end by proponent of genocide.

So far, some 23,000 mass graves showing evidence of violent death have been found in Cambodia and continue to be found. Despite photographs of cemetary boneyards and trenches of dead combatants there has been no discovery of ‘killing fields’ in the Philippines. There are few first hand accounts of the alleged genocide in the Philippines by survivors or perpetrators (Although there are accounts of individual atrocities).

Much attention is given to orders, such as Jacob Smith’s “Kill every one over ten”, little attention is given to determining whether those orders were carried out or even countermand by other officers, as happened in the case of Smith’s orders.

Certainly there were atrocities, and on both sides, and nothing can justify them, but these do not themselves justify the term ‘Genocide’, despicable though they were.

A charge as serious as genocide requires a correspondingly high quality of evidence. That quality of evidence does not currently exist.




ii Many complaints were sent to Emilio Aguinaldo of forces nominally loyal to the Republic and may be found throughout the  Philippine Revoutionary Records/Philippine Insurgency Records, consisting of an estimated 600,000 documents compring Philippine message traffic, located at the National Library of the Phiippines and the the US National Archibes. A selection of them also appear in the last three volumes of John RM Taylor’s The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States, 5 vols. (Pasay City, Philippines: Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1971)

iii Couttie, Bob, Hang The Dogs: The True Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, New Day Publishers, Quezon City, Philippines 2004 (eBook: Hang the Dogs: The True Tragic Story of the Balangiga Massacre Kindle Edition,

iv De Bevoise, Ken, Agents of Apocalypse: Epidemic Disease in the Colonial Philippines, Princeton University Press, USA, 1995

 v Vidal, Gore, An American Sissy, New York Reviw of Books, August 13, 1981. Online here:

vi Fall, Bernard, cited in Ahmad, Eqbal The Theory and Fallacies of Counter-insurgency, The Nation (New York), 2 August 1972, p. 73.

ix Census of the Philippine islands, taken under the direction of the Philippine commission in the year 1903, United States. Bureau of the Census.1905. It is available online:

x E. San Juan

xi San Juan, E, An African American Soldier in the Philippine Revolution: An Homage to David Fagen,

xii San Juan, E, U.S. Genocide in the Philippines A Case of Guilt, Shame, or Amnesia? 2005

Archived article

xiii Francisco, Luzviminda, The First The First Vietnam: U.S.-Philippine War of 1899, online here:

xiv San Juan. E.

xv Karnow, Stanley, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, Random House, USA, 1989, p 194

xvi Compendio de la Reseẽna biográfica de los religiosos de la provincia del Santísimo Rosario de Filipinas desde su fundación hasta nuestros dias, Manila, Establecimiento tipog. del Real colegio de Sto. Tomás, 1895

xvii Blount, James H., The American Occupation of the Philippines 1898-1912.G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1913

xviii Gates, John M, Schoolbooks and Krags; the United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press,1973

xix Ramsey, III, Robert D. A Masterpiece of Counterguerrilla Warfare: BG J. Franklin Bell in the Philippines, 1901-1902, Combat Studies Institute, 2007, online here


11 thoughts on “Philippine Genocide? The Numbers Don’t Add Up

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is an excellent analysis by Bob Couttie that goes pretty far “into the weeds” but contains all of the possible sources of information on this difficult topic.

  2. “It was American policy at the turn of the century to kill as many Filipinos as possible. The rationale was straightforward: “With a very few exceptions, practically the entire population has been hostile to us at heart,” wrote Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell, a propos our seizure of the Philippines. “In order to combat such a population, it is necessary to make the state of war as insupportable as possible, and there is no more efficacious way of accomplishing this than by keeping the minds of the people in such a state of anxiety and apprehension that living under such conditions will soon become intolerable.” – not genocide?

    1. That quote does not indicate genocidal intention and killing as many Filipinos as possible simply isn’t what he did so genocide was clearly not his intention. I’d suggest researching and examining primary documents.

    2. Why kill as much as you can? They don’t intend to populate the country whatsoever but to let the Filipinos surrender or submit to them. There is no reason why they want to exterminate the Filipinos. The Americans who went to my province, Mt. Province were nice people and taught the natives English language.

      1. Indeed, the American governors there actually protected the people there, even to disobeying direct orders. The best book on the subject is The White Apos by Frank Jenista, available from New Day Publishers in Quezon City. Do people still remember Dosser?

  3. Regardless the americans inflicted far more atrocities and destruction on the philippine population than vice versa. Thats something that cant be denied. And to begin, the war was an unjust one started by the u.s. I dont know but it seems like your language comes off as an apologist for u.s imperialism.

  4. Nothing wrong with that. Your statement that both sides committed atrocities would make it appear to the casual reader that both sides are equally guilty as far as atrocities go when that is clearly not the case.

    1. Over time….”equally guilty” has become clearly the case! Even only an 80-20 ratio can still reasonably pass for “both sides.”

  5. “More and more Filipinos were dying each year from disease as a result of social and economic changes unrelated to conflict.”

    Not completely unrelated it would seem. Anyone with sense would immediately understand the enormous consequences of the American ‘scorched-earth strategy’. This practice of destroying entire villages and farmland was very common – and documented on numerous occasions, usually by testimonies of US troops themselves.

    Just one of many examples:

    “In the path of the Washington Regiment and Battery D of the Sixth Artillery there were 1,008 dead niggers, and a great many wounded. We burned all their houses. I don’t know how many men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners.”

    -L. F. Adams, with the Washington regiment, after the Battle of Manila on February 4-5, 1899

    It’s really convenient to simply write off the majority of the deaths as being caused by starvation and disease, implying that either rose in vacuum. Let’s be frank, these soldiers knew very well what they were doing when they razed these farms and villages in the countryside. By depriving people of shelter and food, you are ultimately condemning many of them to death. Cholera too, can’t just spring out of nowhere either. It occurs when people don’t have a suitable access to fresh drinking water; yet another happy accident brought on upon by razing village after village… Not sure if it also needs to be said, but starvation and disease usually go hand in hand when victims bodies weaken from the former; we all understand this, right?

    It’s also convenient were we like to draw the line between genocide and ‘simple’ senseless mass murder in order to weigh one atrocities importance with another. Reminds me of how cruel and horrific annihilation of peoples by the Cheka (in Bolshevik Russia) is still likewise marginalized since it wasn’t racially charged.

    Anyway, the American-Filipino war will probably forever go down in history as one of the most shameful and revealing thing about the United States policy, and justifiably so. You can debate the numbers and the genocide question all you want, but it’s hard to look past the betrayal, the blatantly racist attitude expressed by the occupiers, or the fact the whole bloody war was just so that the Americans could extend their sphere of influence.

    1. I suggest you read what I actually wrote. It will help you understand the context of what I said.

      The Letters Home, which you cite from, are not necessarikly accurate, and some may be fictional. It is not unjknow for soldiers to exagerrate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.