Santos Miguel: A Philippine Scout Fights for Justice

Santos Miguel
9th Battalion, Philippine Scouts on parade in Cebu, Philippine Islands, in January 1916. Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. (Eugene F. Ganley Photograph Collection)

In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, unrest continued to roil the Philippine Islands. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States, which took possession of the islands despite a declaration of independence from the Filipino leaders. In February of 1899, hostilities broke out over the issue of independence. The resulting conflict is known alternately as the Philippine-American War or the Philippine Insurrection.

To supplement U.S. forces, the Army utilized indigenous troops and eventually formed the Philippine Scouts as Army units of indigenous troops commanded by American officers. The Scouts soon distinguished themselves in combat. By the time the conflict officially ended in 1913, the Scouts were a coveted assignment for officers and enlisted alike.

As initially formed, the Scouts were not part of the Army. After World War I, they were officially absorbed by the Army, but their units still carried a (PS) designation. They served with distinction through World War II. Many were captured and participated in the Bataan Death March, while others fled to the hills and formed a resistance to the Japanese occupation. When MacArthur famously returned to the Philippines, he was met on the beaches by Philippine Scouts.

Santos Miguel
Filipino Soldiers circa 1901. Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. (Ron Beifus Photographic Collection)

Master Sergeant (MSG) Santos Miguel was one of the first Filipinos to volunteer their services as a scout to the United States at the very beginning of the Philippine occupation. Enlisting as an irregular before his sixteenth birthday, he rose quickly through the ranks to become a First Sergeant.

With the official formation of the Philippine Scouts in 1901, Miguel enlisted in the U.S. Army and was immediately promoted to sergeant. He served as a Philippine Scout for 30 years, eventually becoming the Sergeant Major for the 45th Infantry (PS). He retired from active duty on October 31, 1931 at Fort William McKinley.

His retirement, however, was not easy. Miguel submitted a voucher for payment of his retirement benefits to an Army pay officer in Manilla in November of 1931, but the officer declined to pay it. Instead, he sent the voucher to Washington, D.C. There, the Comptroller of the United States, J. Raymond McCarl, ruled that “the retirement of enlisted men of the Philippine Scouts is not authorized even by the remotest implication of the laws” and refused payment.

Santos Miguel
Comptroller of the United States J. Raymond McCarl circa 1920. McCarl’s refusal to pay Miguel’s retirement benefits set up a court battle that resulted in the Court’s declaration that the Philippine Scouts were U.S. Soldiers entitled to retirement benefits. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Horydczak Photograph Collection)

MSG Miguel was clearly not one to back down from a fight. He filed suit in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. The Court ruled in his favor but was overturned by the Court of Appeals for the District. Miguel decided to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Santo Miguel
Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that the law clearly recognized Philippine Scouts as Soldiers entitled to retirement benefits. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Harris & Ewing Photograph Collection)

On March 5, 1934, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. Justice George Sutherland delivered the opinion of the majority, writing that the law “plainly directs that such an enlisted man, having served thirty years as such, shall be placed upon the retired list. In this situation the duty of the disbursing officer to pay the voucher in question ‘is so plainly prescribed as to be free from doubt and equivalent to a positive command’…”

From then on, retired Philippine Soldiers received the same pay and allowances as other U.S. Soldiers. The decision established that the Philippine Scouts were integral to the mission in the Philippines and were entitled to the same pay and privileges as any other Soldiers.

The United States relinquished all claims over the Philippines on July 4, 1946, when President Truman signed Proclamation 2695. The Philippine Scouts were disbanded, and the last Scouts deactivated in 1949.

Santos Miguel’s eventual fate is unclear. The American Battle Monuments Commission lists his date of death as June 13, 1942, and his name is listed on the Walls of the Missing along with those of nearly 36,300 others in the Manilla American Cemetery.

Santos Miguel
A Filipino military bugler at the Walls of the Missing in the Manilla American Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of the American Battle Monuments Commission


Letter from Comptroller General McCarl to Maj. S.R. Beard, United States Army, January 19, 1932 denying MSG Miguel’s benefits. (Transcript Courtesy of the U.S. Government Accountability Office)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision, MIGUEL v. McCARL, Comptroller General, et al., Argued Feb. 14, 15, 1934, Decided March 5, 1934.  (Abridged Transcript Courtesy Cornell Law School)

“A Brief History of the Philippine Scouts” by Col. John E. Olson, USA (Ret.), (Courtesy of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society)

Research Volunteer:  Katie Brackman

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