Emilio Aguinaldo was born on March 22, 1869 in the town of Kawit in Cavite, on Luzon in the Spanish colony of the Philippines, the 7th child of the Mayor of the town. At the age of 15, with the sponsorship of a Jesuit priest who was impressed with young Emilio's great intelligence, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where he studied medicine.
Aguinaldo returned to his native Luzon and helped lead an uprising that for a while drove the Spanish from the region. As part of a negotiated settlement Aguinaldo went into exile to Hong Kong in 1888. There he studied British military tactics and accumulated arms, and returned in secret to Luzon a few years later.
In 1895 Aguinaldo joined the Katipunan brotherhood, a secret organization then led by Andrés Bonifacio, dedicated to the expulsion of the Spanish and independence for the Philippines. Along with Dr. José Rizal he began a war against the Spanish in 1896, and took over leadership of the movement after Rizal was captured and executed. Spain fought the rebellion both by military force and bribery of rebel leaders, Aguinaldo took the money offered but instead of returning to exile used it to buy more arms for the rebels.
In 1898 the Spanish-American War started and Aguinaldo contacted American officials in hopes that they would aid in his struggle for independence. He at first received mixed signals, but fought in alliance with the Americans to oust the Spanish—including turning over 15,000 captured Spanish troops over to Admiral Dewey. However relations with the Americans became increasingly strained when they showed no desire to help the Philippines become independent, and began occupying the country as the Spanish had. On his own Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence on August 12 1898, and the Philippine Constitutional Convention elected him President on January 1 1899. After fighting broke out between American troops and pro-independence Filipinos, Aguinaldo declared war on the United States on February 4, 1899.
Aguinaldo led resistance to the American occupation until he was captured in 1901 by US General Frederick Funston. He accepted an offer that his life would be spared if he pledged allegiance to the United States. He then retired from public life for many years, until 1935 when he announced he was a candidate for the new office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines; he lost the election to Manuel L. Quezon.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II Aguinaldo made infamous radio addresses in support of the Japanese. After the Americans retook the Philippines he was arrested as a collaborator, but in trial it was determined that his broadcasts were made under great duress (the Japanese had threatened to murder his entire family), and his name was cleared. He lived to see his lifelong goal of independence for his nation achieved in 1946, and in 1950 served a term in the Council of State before returning to retirement. In his final years he spoke in favor of greater democracy in the country. He died in Manila in 1964.