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Rear Admiral George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Squadron, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long



MANILA, P.I.,          

AUGUST 29, 1898.  


     1.   Referring to the Department’s telegram of the 28th instant, I have the honor to transmit by the hand of Brigadier General F.V.Greene, U.S.V.,1 the following views and information upon the subject of the Philippines. A copy of this communication is also given to Major General Merritt.2

     2.   The most important islands of the Philippines are Luzon, Panay, Cebu, Negros, Leyte and Mindanao. The others, owing either to the character of the inhabitants, the limited amount of civilization or the almost entire absence of cultivated land, may be neglected in any consideration of the relative importance or desirability of those islands, especially those of the southern group which are almost wholly given over to savages.

     3.   Luzon is in almost all respects the most desirable of these islands and therefor the one to retain. In it is situated Manila, the most important commercial as well as the most populous port, of all the islands -- a port that in our hands would soon become one of the first ports of the world. Not only is tobacco produced in large quantities, but all the tobacco of fine quality grown in the Philippines comes from the northern provinces of this island. The interior has as yet not been developed. There is but one short railroad from Manila to Dagupan and no highways, so that almost all the commerce is carried on by water. Were railroads and highways built-- and labor is very cheap-- there is little doubt that this island would rapidly increase in productiveness and wealth. The population of Luzon is reported to be something over 3,000,000, mostly natives. These are gentle, docile and under just laws and with the benefits of popular education would soon make good citizens.

     In a telegram sent to the Department on June 23d I expressed the opinion that “these people are far superior in their intelligence and more capable of self government than the natives of Cuba, and I am familiar with both races.”3 Further intercourse with them has confirmed me in this opinion.

     4.   As Luzon is the farthest north of the large islands its climate is naturally the most temperate. In this connection it may be mentioned that out of a force of over 2000 on the ships of my squadron the number of men on the sick list at any time has not exceeded forty, nor has there been any considerable sickness among our troops on shore, though they were much exposed for three weeks in the trenches during the rainy season. As a matter of fact Manila is far from being an unhealthy city, and the climate is as fine as that of any place in the tropics.

     5.   About 60 miles from Manila and to the Northward and Westward in Subig Bay, decidedly the best harbor in the Philippines, having no equal as a coaling station or naval and military base. The entrances are narrow, the shores bold, the water deep, the bay land-locked, easily defended from attack by sea or land and the fresh water supply ample. As it is just off the trade route between Manila and China and Japan it strategically commands Manila. It is there that the Spanish government had planned to place its principal Naval Arsenal in the East. Already a great deal of money has been expended, many buildings erected and much work done. A contract has been made with an English Company to construct a floating dock of 12000 tons capacity, some of the material has been delivered and payments made. The Arsenal is on the South side of the harbor at the village of Olongapo. It is expected that a connection will be made with the railroad from Manila to Dagupan, thus putting Subig in easy reach of Manila.

     6.   The principal Naval Station in the Philippines is now at Cavite in Manila Bay. It has very fair work shops for light work and ways for vessels of less than 1000 tons. But it is capable of little expansion and the small depth of water precludes the building of dry docks for large ships or even the use of floating docks of much capacity.

     7.   Luzon has other decided advantages both in a commercial and military sense. It is nearest the great centers of trade in the far East -- such as Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, Pekin,4 Nagasaki, and Yokohoma -- and nearest the trade routes from the United States and Honolulu to those centers; consequently its influence would be greater if held by us. It also commands San Bernadino Strait, the principal water route through the Philippines from East to West.

     8.   From all of the above facts it seems patent that Luzon is by far the most valuable island in the group, whether coming from a commercial or military standpoint.

     9.   Panay, Cebu, Negros and Leyte are very thickly populated and well cultivated. In these islands the natives are conceded to be the best educated and furthest advanced in civilization.

     10.   In Panay is situated Ilo-ilo,5 the second commercial port of the Philippines and the center of the sugar trade. It has a good harbor, with two entrances, and one that has great strategic importance.

     11.   Cebu, the third commercial port, in the island of the same name, has a harbor much like that of Ilo-ilo.

     12.   From the best information obtainable it appears that the Philippines contain varied and valuable mineral resources as well as admirable timber.

I have the honor to be,     

Very respectfully,

George Dewey

Rear Admiral, U.S.Navy,

Commanding U.S. Naval Force on Asiatic Station. 

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 364. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.” Document reference: “No.461-D.”

Footnote 1: Gen. Francis V. Greene.

Footnote 2: Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt.

Footnote 3: Dewey wrote the message on 23 June, but it was not sent by cable from Hong Kong until 27 June. See: Dewey to Long, 27 June 1898.

Footnote 4: Modern-day Beijing.

Footnote 5: Modern-day Iloilo City.

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