THE PHILIPPINES: THE UNITED STATES’ FIRST COLONY

UNITED STATES IN THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines was the United States’ first colony. On July 4, 1901, a U.S.-backed government was established in Manila with the future U.S. president Howard Taft as the first civilian U.S. governor of the Philippines. The 325-pound walrus of a man posed for a picture on the back of a water buffalo and promised to help "our little brown brothers."

According to Lonely Planet: “By 1902 the first Philippine Republic was dead and buried and a succession of American neocolonial governors-general ensured it stayed that way. The main intention of the Americans, like the Spanish, was to serve their own economic needs, and by 1930 they had engineered an industrial and social revolution, with two of the biggest booms coming from mining and prostitution. Not until 1935, once it had firmly lassoed the country's resources, did the USA endorse the Commonwealth of the Philippines, along with the drafting of a US-style constitution and the first national election. On paper at least, democracy and freedom had at last come to the Philippines.”

American rule was relatively benign. The U.S. Bill of Rights was extended to Filipinos. The Jones Act of 1916 established a two house Congress that were elected by the Filipinos but controlled by a U.S. commission that only recognized the political parties it supported. This Congress controlled the country until World War II.

The U.S. set up an education system in the Philippines ( See Education). American-introduced sanitation helped eradicate the periodic cholera epidemics that ravaged the Philippines and helped defeat other diseases. The U.S. army established Fort Stotenberg in 1903 and added an airfield in 1919 named after Major Harold Clark. The U.S. Navy opened a naval station at Subic Bay in 1905.

Books: In Their Image, a Pulitzer-prize-winning book about the United States and the Philippines relationship by Stanley Karnow; Sitting in Darkness: American in the Philippines by David Howard Bain.

Beginning of U.S. Rule in the Philippines

On January 20, 1899, President McKinley appointed the First Philippine Commission (the Schurman Commission), a five-person group headed by Dr. Jacob Schurman, president of Cornell University, and including Admiral Dewey and General Otis, to investigate conditions in the islands and make recommendations. In the report that they issued to the president the following year, the commissioners acknowledged Filipino aspirations for independence; they declared, however, that the Philippines was not ready for it. Specific recommendations included the establishment of civilian government as rapidly as possible (the American chief executive in the islands at that time was the military governor), including establishment of a bicameral legislature, autonomous governments on the provincial and municipal levels, and a system of free public elementary schools. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Second Philippine Commission (the Taft Commission), appointed by McKinley on March 16, 1900, and headed by William Howard Taft, was granted legislative as well as limited executive powers. Between September 1900 and August 1902, it issued 499 laws. A judicial system was established, including a Supreme Court, and a legal code was drawn up to replace antiquated Spanish ordinances. A civil service was organized. The 1901 municipal code provided for popularly elected presidents, vice presidents, and councilors to serve on municipal boards. The municipal board members were responsible for collecting taxes, maintaining municipal properties, and undertaking necessary construction projects; they also elected provincial governors. In July 1901 the Philippine Constabulary was organized as an archipelago-wide police force to control brigandage and deal with the remnants of the insurgent movement. After military rule was terminated on July 4, 1901, the Philippine Constabulary gradually took over from United States army units the responsibility for suppressing guerrilla and bandit activities. *

From the very beginning, United States presidents and their representatives in the islands defined their colonial mission as tutelage: preparing the Philippines for eventual independence. Except for a small group of "retentionists," the issue was not whether the Philippines would be granted self-rule, but when and under what conditions. Thus political development in the islands was rapid and particularly impressive in light of the complete lack of representative institutions under the Spanish. The Philippine Organic Act of July 1902 stipulated that, with the achievement of peace, a legislature would be established composed of a lower house, the Philippine Assembly, which would be popularly elected, and an upper house consisting of the Philippine Commission, which was to be appointed by the president of the United States. The two houses would share legislative powers, although the upper house alone would pass laws relating to the Moros and other non-Christian peoples. The act also provided for extending the United States Bill of Rights to Filipinos and sending two Filipino resident commissioners to Washington to attend sessions of the United States Congress. In July 1907, the first elections for the assembly were held, and it opened its first session on October 16, 1907. Political parties were organized, and, although open advocacy of independence had been banned during the insurgency years, criticism of government policies in the local newspapers was tolerated. *

Taft, the Philippines' first civilian governor, outlined a comprehensive development plan that he described as "the Philippines for the Filipinos . . . that every measure, whether in the form of a law or an executive order, before its adoption, should be weighed in the light of this question: Does it make for the welfare of the Filipino people, or does it not?" Its main features included not only broadening representative institutions but also expanding a system of free public elementary education and designing economic policies to promote the islands' development. Filipinos widely interpreted Taft's pronouncements as a promise of independence. *

The 1902 Philippine Organic Act disestablished the Catholic Church as the state religion. The United States government, in an effort to resolve the status of the friars, negotiated with the Vatican. The church agreed to sell the friars' estates and promised gradual substitution of Filipino and other non-Spanish priests for the friars. It refused, however, to withdraw the religious orders from the islands immediately, partly to avoid offending Spain. In 1904 the administration bought for US$7.2 million the major part of the friars' holdings, amounting to some 166,000 hectares, of which one-half was in the vicinity of Manila. The land was eventually resold to Filipinos, some of them tenants but the majority of them estate owners. *

Economic and Social Developments Under the Americans in the Philippines

The Taft Commission, appointed in 1900, viewed economic development, along with education and the establishment of representative institutions, as one of the three pillars of the United States program of tutelage. Its members had ambitious plans to build railroads and highways, improve harbor facilities, open greater markets for Philippine goods through the lowering or elimination of tariffs, and stimulate foreign investment in mining, forestry, and cash-crop cultivation. In 1901 some 93 percent of the islands' total land area was public land, and it was hoped that a portion of this area could be sold to American investors. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Those plans were frustrated, however, by powerful agricultural interests in the United States Congress who feared competition from Philippine sugar, coconut oil, tobacco, and other exports. Although Taft argued for more liberal terms, the United States Congress, in the 1902 Land Act, set a limit of 16 hectares of Philippine public land to be sold or leased to American individuals and 1,024 hectares to American corporations. This act and tight financial markets in the United States discouraged the development of large-scale, foreign-owned plantations such as were being established in British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and French Indochina. The Taft Commission argued that tariff relief was essential if the islands were to be developed. In August 1909, Congress passed the Payne Aldrich Tariff Act, which provided for free entry to the United States of all Philippine products except rice, sugar, and tobacco. Rice imports were subjected to regular tariffs, and quotas were established for sugar and tobacco.

Over time the Philippine economy became based on export crops. Large landowners became rich and Filipinos became dependant on the U.S. as a buyer of their goods and a provider of aid. In 1913 the Underwood Tariff Act removed all restrictions on trade between the U.S. and the Philippines. The principal result of these acts was to make the islands increasingly dependent on American markets; between 1914 and 1920, the portion of Philippine exports going to the United States rose from 50 to 70 percent. By 1939 it had reached 85 percent, and 65 percent of imports came from the United States. *

Life in American-Occupied Philippines

The Americans built roads, bridges and sewage systems in the Philippines. They eradicated small pox and brought cholera under control. Some land owned by the church was redistributed among the Filipinos but most of the land went to large land owners. Sanitation and health were improved, infrastructure was expanded, and English was taught in schools, which helped bring the archipelago's numerous ethnic groups closer together.

The linchpins of the system created under United States tutelage were the village- and province-level notables--often labeled bosses or caciques by colonial administrators--who garnered support by exchanging specific favors for votes. Reciprocal relations between inferior and superior (most often tenants or sharecroppers with large landholders) usually involved the concept of utang na loob (repayment of debts) or kinship ties, and they formed the basis of support for village-level factions led by the notables. These factions decided political party allegiance. The extension of voting rights to all literate males in 1916, the growth of literacy, and the granting of women's suffrage in 1938 increased the electorate considerably. The elite, however, was largely successful in monopolizing the support of the newly enfranchised, and a genuinely populist alternative to the status quo was never really established. [Source: Library of Congress]

Before World War II, the social life for Americans centered around the Army and Navy Club and the Manila Polo Club. Filipinos were not welcome at either one of these places. In the hottest months Americans in Manila retreated to mile-high Baguio, an American version of a hill staton.

In 1931 there were between 80,000 and 100,000 Chinese in the islands active in the local economy; many of them had arrived after United States rule had been established. Some 16,000 Japanese were concentrated largely in the Mindanao province of Davao (the incorporated city of Davao was labeled by local boosters the "Little Tokyo of the South") and were predominant in the abaca industry. Yet the immigration of foreign laborers never reached a volume sufficient to threaten indigenous control of the economy or the traditional social structure as it did in British Malaya and Burma.

Collaborative Philippine-American Leadership

The most important step in establishing a new political system was the successful coaptation of the Filipino elite--called the "policy of attraction." Wealthy and conservative ilustrados, the self-described "oligarchy of intelligence," had been from the outset reluctant revolutionaries, suspicious of the Katipunan and willing to negotiate with either Spain or the United States. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, a descendant of Spanish nobility, and Benito Legarda, a rich landowner and capitalist, had quit Aguinaldo's government in 1898 as a result of disagreements with Mabini. Subsequently, they worked closely with the Schurman and Taft commissions, advocating acceptance of United States rule. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In December 1900, de Tavera and Legarda established the Federalista Party, advocating statehood for the islands. In the following year they were appointed the first Filipino members of the Philippine Commission of the legislature. In such an advantageous position, they were able to bring influence to bear to achieve the appointment of Federalistas to provincial governorships, the Supreme Court, and top positions in the civil service. Although the party boasted a membership of 200,000 by May 1901, its proposal to make the islands a state of the United States had limited appeal, both in the islands and in the United States, and the party was widely regarded as being opportunistic. In 1905 the party revised its program over the objections of its leaders, calling for "ultimate independence" and changing its name to the National Progressive Party (Partido Nacional Progresista). *

The policy of attraction ensured the success of what colonial administrators called the political education of the Filipinos. It was, however, also the cause of its greatest failure. Early leader such Osmeña and Quezon, (see below) were not genuinely interested in social reform, and serious problems involving land ownership, tenancy, and the highly unequal distribution of wealth were largely ignored.

Much of the system's success depended on the linkage of modern political institutions with traditional social structures and practices. Most significantly, it involved the integration of local-level elite groups into the new political system. Philippine parties have been described by political scientist Carl Landé as organized "upward" rather than "downward." That is, national followings were put together by party leaders who worked in conjunction with local elite groups--in many cases the descendants of the principalía of Spanish times--who controlled constituencies tied to them in patron-client relationships. The issue of independence, and the conditions and timing under which it would be granted, generated considerable passion in the national political arena. According to Landé, however, the decisive factors in terms of popular support were more often local and particularistic issues rather than national or ideological concerns. Filipino political associations depended on intricate networks of personalistic ties, directed upward to Manila and the national legislature. *

Rise of Nacionalista Party in the Philippines

The Nacionalista Party, established in 1907, dominated the Philippine political process until after World War II. It was led by a new generation of politicians, although they were not ilustrados and were by no means radical. One of the leaders, Manuel Quezon, came from a family of moderate wealth. An officer in Aguinaldo's army, he studied law, passed his bar examination in 1903, and entered provincial politics, becoming governor of Tayabas in 1906 before being elected to the Philippine Assembly the following year. His success at an early age was attributable to consummate political skills and the support of influential Americans. His Nacionalista Party associate and sometime rival was Sergio Osmeña, the college-educated son of a shopkeeper, who had worked as a journalist. The former journalist's thoroughness and command of detail made him a perfect complement to Quezon. Like Quezon, Osmeña had served as a provincial governor (in his home province of Cebu) before being elected in 1907 to the assembly and, at age twenty-nine, selected as its first speaker. *

Although the Nacionalista Party's platform at its founding called for "immediate independence," American observers believed that Osmeña and Quezon used this appeal only to get votes. In fact, their policy toward the Americans was highly accommodating. In 1907 an understanding was reached with an American official that the two leaders would block any attempt by the Philippine Assembly to demand independence. Osmeña and Quezon, who were the dominant political figures in the islands up to World War II, were genuinely committed to independence. The failure of Aguinaldo's revolutionary movement, however, had taught them the pragmatism of adopting a conciliatory policy. *

The appearance of the Nacionalista Party in 1907 marked the emergence of the party system, although the party was without an effective rival from 1916 for most of the period until the emergence of the Liberal Party in 1946. The growing power of the Nacionalista Party, particularly in the period after 1916 when it gained almost complete control of a bicameral Filipino legislature, barred the effective inclusion of nonelite interests in the political system. Not only revolution but also moderate reform of the social and economic systems were precluded. Discussions of policy alternatives became less salient to the political process than the dynamics of personalism and the ethic of give and take. *

Jones Act and Early Elections in the Philippines

The term of Governor General Francis Burton Harrison (1913-21) was one of particularly harmonious collaboration between Americans and Filipinos. Harrison's attitudes (he is described as having regarded himself as a "constitutional monarch" presiding over a "government of Filipinos") reflected the relatively liberal stance of Woodrow Wilson's Democratic Party administration. In 1913 Wilson had appointed five Filipinos to the Philippine Commission of the legislature, giving it a Filipino majority for the first time. Harrison undertook rapid "Filipinization" of the civil service, much to the anger and distress of Americans in the islands, including superannuated officials. In 1913 there had been 2,623 American and 6,363 Filipino officials; in 1921 there were 13,240 Filipino and 614 American administrators. Critics accused Harrison of transforming a "colonial government of Americans aided by Filipinos" into a "government of Filipinos aided by Americans" and of being the "plaything and catspaw of the leaders of the Nacionalista Party." [Source: Library of Congress *]

A major step was taken in the direction of independence in 1916, when the United States Congress passed a second organic law, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which replaced the 1902 law. Its preamble stated the intent to grant Philippine independence as soon as a stable government was established. The Philippine Senate replaced the Philippine Commission as the upper house of the legislature. Unlike the commission, all but two of the Senate's twenty-four members (and all but nine of the ninety representatives in the lower house, now renamed the House of Representatives) were popularly elected. The two senators and nine representatives were appointed by the governor general to represent the non-Christian peoples. The legislature's actions were subject to the veto of the governor general, and it could not pass laws affecting the rights of United States citizens. The Jones Act brought the legislative branch under Filipino control. The executive still was firmly under the control of an appointed governor general, and most Supreme Court justices, who were appointed by the United States president, still were Americans in 1916. *

Elections were held for the two houses in 1916, and the Nacionalista Party made an almost clean sweep. All but one elected seat in the Senate and eighty-three out of ninety elected seats in the House were won by their candidates, leaving the National Progressive Party (the former Federalista Party) a powerless opposition. Quezon was chosen president of the Senate, and Osmeña continued as speaker of the House. *

The Jones Act remained the basic legislation for the administration of the Philippines until the United States Congress passed new legislation in 1934 which became effective in 1935, establishing the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Provisions of the Jones Act were differently interpreted, however, by the governors general. Harrison rarely challenged the legislature by his use of the veto power. His successor, General Leonard Wood (1921-27), was convinced that United States withdrawal from the islands would be as disastrous for the Filipinos as it would be for the interests of the United States in the western Pacific. He aroused the intense opposition of the Nacionalistas by his use of the veto power 126 times in his six years in office. The Nacionalista Party created a political deadlock when ranking Filipino officials resigned in 1923 leaving their positions vacant until Wood's term ended with his death in 1927. His successors, however, reversed Wood's policies and reestablished effective working relations with Filipino politicians. *

Impact of American Rule on Muslim Mindanao

Although the Jones Act did not transfer responsibility for the Moro regions (reorganized in 1914 under the Department of Mindanao and Sulu) from the American governor to the Filipino-controlled legislature, Muslims perceived the rapid Filipinization of the civil service and United States commitment to eventual independence as serious threats. In the view of the Moros, an independent Philippines would be dominated by Christians, their traditional enemies. United States policy from 1903 had been to break down the historical autonomy of the Muslim territories.

Immigration of Christian settlers from Luzon and the Visayan Islands to the relatively unsettled regions of Mindanao was encouraged, and the new arrivals began supplanting the Moros in their own homeland. Large areas of the island were opened to economic exploitation. There was no legal recognition of Muslim customs and institutions. In March 1935, Muslim datu petitioned United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking that "the American people should not release us until we are educated and become powerful because we are like a calf who, once abandoned by its mother, would be devoured by a merciless lion." Any suggestion of special status for or continued United States rule over the Moro regions, however, was vehemently opposed by Christian Filipino leaders who, when the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established, gained virtually complete control over government institutions. *

Unequal Wealth Distribution and Exploitation of the Landless Poor Continues Under American Rule

The limited nature of United States intervention in the economy and the Nacionalista Party's elite dominance of the Philippine political system ensured that the status quo in landlord and tenant relationships would be maintained, even if certain of its traditional aspects changed. A government attempt to establish homesteads modeled on those of the American West in 1903 did little to alter landholding arrangements. Although different regions of the archipelago had their own specific arrangements and different proportions of tenants and small proprietors, the kasama (sharecropper) system, was the most prevalent, particularly in the rice-growing areas of Central Luzon and the Visayan Islands. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Under this arrangement, the landowners supplied the seed and cash necessary to tide cultivators over during the planting season, whereas the cultivators provided tools and work animals and were responsible for one-half the expense of crop production. Usually, owner and sharecropper each took one-half of the harvest, although only after the former deducted a portion for expenses. Terms might be more liberal in frontier areas where owners needed to attract cultivators to clear the land. Sometimes land tenancy arrangements were three tiered. An original owner would lease land to an inquilino, who would then sublet it to kasamas. In the words of historian David R. Sturtevant: "Thrice removed from their proprietario, affected taos [peasants] received ever-diminishing shares from the picked-over remains of harvests." *

Cultivators customarily were deep in debt, for they were dependent on advances made by the landowner or inquilino and had to pay steep interest rates. Principal and interest accumulated rapidly, becoming an impossible burden. It was estimated in 1924 that the average tenant family would have to labor uninterruptedly for 163 years to pay off debts and acquire title to the land they worked. The kasama system created a class of peons or serfs; children inherited the debts of their fathers, and over the generations families were tied in bondage to their estates. Contracts usually were unwritten, and landowners could change conditions to their own advantage. *

Two factors led to a worsening of the cultivators' position. One was the rapid increase in the national population (from 7.6 million in 1905 to 16 million in 1939) brought about through improvements in public health, which put added pressure on the land, lowered the standard of living, and created a labor surplus. Closely tied to the population increase was the erosion of traditional patron-client ties. The landlord-tenant relationship was becoming more impersonal. The landlord's interest in the tenants' welfare was waning. Landlords ceased providing important services and used profits from the sale of cash crops to support their urban life-styles or to invest in other kinds of enterprises. Cultivators accused landowners of being shameless and forgetting the principle of utang na loob, demanding services from tenants without pay and giving nothing in return. *

As the area under cultivation increased from 1.3 million hectares in 1903 to 4 million hectares in 1935--stimulated by United States demand for cash crops and by the growing population--tenancy also increased. In 1918 there were roughly 2 million farms, of which 1.5 million were operated by their owners; by 1939 these figures had declined to 1.6 million and 800,000, respectively, as individual proprietors became tenants or migrant laborers. Disparities in the distribution of wealth grew. By 1939 the wealthiest 10 percent of the population received 40 percent of the islands' income. The elite and the cultivators were separated culturally and geographically, as well as economically; as new urban centers rose, often with an Americanized culture, the elite left the countryside to become absentee landlords, leaving estate management in the hands of frequently abusive overseers. The Philippine Constabulary played a central role in suppressing antilandlord resistance. *

Resistance Movements in American-Occupied Philippines

The tradition of rural revolt, often with messianic overtones, continued under United States rule. Colorum sects, derived from the old Cofradía de San José, had spread throughout the Christian regions of the archipelago and by the early 1920s competed with the Roman Catholic establishment and the missionaries of Gregorio Aglipay's Independent Philippine Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente). A colorum-led revolt broke out in northeastern Mindanao early in 1924, sparked by a sect leader's predictions of an imminent judgment day. In 1925 Florencio Entrencherado, a shopkeeper on the island of Panay, proclaimed himself Florencio I, Emperor of the Philippines, somewhat paradoxically running for the office of provincial governor of Iloilo that same year on a platform of tax reduction, measures against Chinese and Japanese merchants, and immediate independence. Although he lost the election, the campaign made him a prominent figure in the western Visayan Islands and won him the sympathies of the poor living in the sugar provinces of Panay and Negros. Claiming semidivine attributes (that he could control the elements and that his charisma had been granted him by the Holy Spirit and the spirits of Father Burgos and Rizal), Florencio had a following of some 10,000 peasants on Negros and Panay by late 1926. In May 1927, his supporters, heeding his call that "the hour will come when the poor will be ordered to kill all the rich," launched an abortive insurrection. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Tensions were highest in Central Luzon, where tenancy was most widespread and population pressures were the greatest. The 1931 Tayug insurrection north of Manila was connected with a colorum sect and had religious overtones, but traditionally messianic movements gradually gave way to secular, and at times revolutionary, ones. One of the first of these movements was the Association of the Worthy Kabola (Kapisanan Makabola Makasinag), a secret society that by 1925 had some 12,000 followers, largely in Nueva Ecija Province. Its leader, Pedro Kabola, called for liberation of the Philippines and promised the aid of the Japanese. The Tangulang (Kapatiran Tangulang Malayang Mamamayang--Association for an Offensive for Our Future Freedom) movement founded in 1931 was both urban and rural based and had as many as 40,000 followers. *

The most important movement, however, was that of the Sakdalistas. Founded in 1933 by Benigno Ramos, a former Nacionalista Party member and associate of Quezon who broke with him over the issue of collaboration, the Sakdal Party (sakdal means to accuse) ran candidates in the 1934 election on a platform of complete independence by the end of 1935, redistribution of land, and an end to caciquism. Sakdalistas were elected to a number of seats in the legislature and to provincial posts, and by early 1935 the party may have had as many as 200,000 members. Because of poor harvests and frustrations with the government's lack of response to peasant demands, Sakdalistas took up arms and seized government buildings in a number of locations on May 2-3, 1935. The insurrection, suppressed by the Philippine Constabulary, resulted in approximately 100 dead and Benigno Ramos fled into exile to Japan. *

Through the 1930s, tenant movements in Central Luzon became more active, articulate, and better organized. In 1938 the Socialist Party joined in a united front with the Communist Party of the Philippines (Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas--PKP), which was prominent in supporting the demands of tenants for better contracts and working conditions. As the depression wore on and prices for cash crops collapsed, tenant strikes and violent confrontations with landlords, their overseers, and the Philippine Constabulary escalated. *

In response to deteriorating conditions, commonwealth president Quezon launched the "Social Justice" program, which included regulation of rents but achieved only meager results. There were insufficient funds to carry out the program, and implementation was sabotaged on the local level by landlords and municipal officials. In 1939 and 1940, thousands of cultivators were evicted by landlords because they insisted on enforcement of the 1933 Rice Share Tenancy Act, which guaranteed larger shares for tenants. *

Movement Towards Philippine Independence in the 1930s

In 1934, under the Tydings-McDuffie Act, a commonwealth government with a constitution was established in the Philippines after U.S. farmers, hit hard by the depression, pushed for Philippine independence to stop the archipelago's favored-trade policies. The constitution was ratified on May 14, 1935. The commonwealth government was supposed to last for ten years, after which the Philippines would become an independent country. The date of independence was set at July 4. 1946.

The constellation of political forces in the United States that assisted in the resolution of the independence question formed an odd community of interests with the Filipino nationalists. Principal among these were the agricultural interests. American sugar beet, tobacco, and dairy farmers feared the competition of low-tariff insular products, and the hardships suffered in a deepening depression in the early 1930s led them to seek protection through a severance of the colonial relationship. In this they had the support of Cuban sugar interests, who feared the loss of markets to Philippine sugarcane. United States labor unions, particularly on the West Coast, wanted to exclude Filipino labor. A number of American observers saw the Philippines as a potential flash point with an expansive Japan and argued for a withdrawal across the Pacific to Hawaii. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In the climate generated by these considerations, Osmeña and Manuel Roxas, a rising star in the Nacionalista Party and Osmeña's successor as speaker of the House, successfully campaigned for passage of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence Bill, which Congress approved over President Herbert Hoover's veto in January 1933. Quezon opposed the legislation, however, on the grounds that clauses relating to trade and excluding Filipino immigrants were too stringent and that the guarantees of United States bases on Philippine soil and powers granted a United States high commissioner compromised independence. After the bill was defeated in the Philippine legislature, Quezon himself went to Washington and negotiated the passage of a revised independence act, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, in March 1934. *

The Tydings-McDuffie Act provided for a ten-year transition period to independence, during which the Commonwealth of the Philippines would be established. The commonwealth would have its own constitution and would be self-governing, although foreign policy would be the responsibility of the United States. Laws passed by the legislature affecting immigration, foreign trade, and the currency system had to be approved by the United States president. *

If the Tydings-McDuffie Act marked a new stage in Filipino-American partnership, it remained a highly unequal one. Although only fifty Filipino immigrants were allowed into the United States annually under the arrangement, American entry and residence in the islands were unrestricted. Trade provisions of the act allowed for five years' free entry of Philippine goods during the transition period and five years of gradually steepening tariff duties thereafter, reaching 100 percent in 1946, whereas United States goods could enter the islands unrestricted and duty free during the full ten years. Quezon had managed to obtain more favorable terms on bases; the United States would retain only a naval reservation and fueling stations. The United States would, moreover, negotiate with foreign governments for the neutralization of the islands. *

Philippine Commwealth Government Under Manuel Quezon

The Philippines’ first constitution was framed by a constitutional convention that assembled in July 1934. Overwhelmingly approved by plebiscite in May 1935, this document established the political institutions for the intended ten-year commonwealth period that began that year and after July 1946 became the constitution of the independent Republic of the Philippines. The first commonwealth election to the new Congress was held in September 1935. Quezon and Osmeña, reconciled after their disagreements over the independence act, ran on a Coalition Party ticket and were elected president and vice president, respectively. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Manuel Quezon (1878-1944) was the first Filipino president. The son of a Luzon schoolteacher, he made a name for himself as an activist and fiery orator and fought against both Spain and the United States. He once said, 'It is better to go to hell without America than to go to heaven with her!' He emerged as an independence leader and served as presidnt of the Philippines Senate form 1916 to 1935, when he became president of the Philippines commonwealth.

Quezon came from a family of moderate wealth. An officer in Aguinaldo's army, he studied law, passed his bar examination in 1903, and entered provincial politics, becoming governor of Tayabas in 1906 before being elected to the Philippine Assembly the following year. His success at an early age was attributable to consummate political skills and the support of influential Americans.

Quezon was in office when Japan invaded Luzon in December 1941. He escaped from the Philippines and established a government in exile in the United States. When Quezon died on August 1, 1944 he was succeeded as commonwealth president by Sergio Osmena. Osmeña accompanied MacArthur's Allied forces when they landed on the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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