The Philippine Scouts

To assist with the occupation of the Philippine Islands following the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army began to employ native Filipinos as soldiers and scouts. In September 1899, a group of friendly tribesman from the area around the village of Macabebe was organized into a company of scouts. During the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902), the Macabebes remained loyal to the American forces fighting the rebels. A small group of Macabebes participated in one of the most daring actions of the insurgency, BG Frederick Funston’s capture of Emilio Aguinaldo, the rebel leader, in March 1901. During the final stages of the insurrection, other tribes were recruited to serve with the U.S. Army, including Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Visayans, and Bicols. Collectively, these groups of Filipinos recruited to fight for the U.S. Army became known as the Philippine Scouts.

While a number of Filipinos served with U.S. forces since 1899, a law authorizing the President to enlist and organize Filipinos into official military units for service with the Army was not passed until 2 February 1901. Initially, the Army recruited fifty-two companies of Scouts. Each company was raised from the same province, making them ethnically and linguistically homogeneous. Since the original purpose of the Scouts was as a counterinsurgency force capable of penetrating enemy held territory, units larger than companies were viewed as impractical.

Scout uniforms, rations, and equipment were similar to those of Regular Army troops. In keeping with the practices of other colonial armies, however, Scouts were initially equipped with outdated weapons, such as .45 caliber Springfield carbines, which fired black powder cartridges. These weapons were later replaced by model 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. Another difference between the Scouts and American soldiers was in pay, with Scouts receiving about one-third the pay of U.S. regulars. This discrepancy created tension and led to a brief mutiny in July 1924.

Scout companies were commanded by company grade U.S. Army officers. American officers selected Filipino noncommissioned officers from the ranks. In 1914, Filipinos were admitted to West Point for training as officers for Scout units, but few took advantage of the opportunity. The 1903 report of the Philippine Commission stated that competent American officers were key to the success of the Scouts because “Filipinos were thought to be capable fighters if they were properly led.”

The Scouts earned a reputation as loyal, skillful, professional soldiers. The desertion rates for Scout units were a fraction of Regular Army units. They saw extensive service in the Philippine Insurrection, particularly during the latter stages. In addition to playing a role in the capture of Aguinaldo, they also participated in the capture of Vincente Lukban, a major rebel leader on the islands of Leyte and Samar. Scouts later helped to put down several sporadic uprisings and also served in the campaign to suppress the rebellion conducted by the Moros in the southern Philippines. Service in the Scouts was considered to be an honored profession among the Filipinos, and long waiting lists existed for enlistment. Several American officers praised the Scouts as “the finest body of native troops in existence.”

As the conventional military role of the Scouts increased, the companies were consolidated into battalions in 1905. By 1918, the Scouts were reorganized into regiments. In 1922, the Philippine Division was organized with both U.S. Army and Philippine Scout units. Despite the fact that Scout units now included infantry (43rd, 45th, and 57th Infantry), cavalry (26th Cavalry) field artillery (23rd and 24th Field Artillery), and other combat and combat support units, they maintained their original designation of “scouts” out of tradition.

When the Japanese attacked the Philippines on 8 December 1941, the Scouts numbered approximately 8,000 men in the Philippine Division and separate units. Outnumbered and poorly equipped, the Philippine Division, under the command of BG Maxwell S. Lough, and other Scout units put up a valiant defense, but were forced to surrender to the Japanese on 9 April 1942.

After the war, Scout units were reorganized to perform occupation duty in the Philippines. Once the Philippines gained independence in 1946, however, the U.S. disbanded the Philippine Scouts. The last units were officially disbanded on 30 September 1949.

© The Army Historical Foundation