by John Gunther
(From Inside Asia, 1939 edition; originally published in the January, 1939 edition of The Atlantic Magazine)
My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.
Elastic, electric, Manuel Quezon is a sort of Beau Brummel among dictators. Here is an extraordinarily engaging little man. The prankishness of Quezon, the rakish tilt to the brim of his hat, his love for the lights of pleasure as well as the light of power, his dash and roguery, the spirited elegance of his establishments all the way from the yacht cruising on Manila Bay to the refulgent pearls – so luminous they seem – cruising on his shirtfront , combine brightly to indicate a character straight off Broadway or Piccadilly Circus, a lighthearted playboy among eastern statesmen.
But such an interpretation would express only a fraction of the complex truth. Mr Quezon, the first president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, is a great deal more than a playboy. He is full of nerve – and nerves. He is one of the world’s best ballroom dancers; also one of the world’s supplest and hardest-boiled practical politicians. He loves cards and alcohol; also he loves his country and his career. He likes to laugh – even at himself-but he is a genuine revolutionary, as much the father of his country as Kamal Ataturk. The history of the Philippine Islands in the twentieth century and the biography of Manuel Quezon are indissolubly one.
When Quezon was a boy of eighteen or so he returned to his native village in the north, feeling himself a grand cock of the walk with his newly gained academy degree. Both of his father and mother were school teachers. His father took him to see the chief authority of the village, a local priest who had come there while Quezon was away at school. The tradition in those days was that anyone visiting a priest must kiss his hand. The priest was a very fat man who sat with one leg sagging over the arm of a chair. He extended his pudgy hand for the boy to kiss, not otherwise moving. So young Manuel grasped and shook the hand instead of kissing it. Sensation. The priest begged Quezon’s father to punish him for his irreverence. Young Quezon bided his time. He discovered that the priest was having a liaison with a girl in the village. Quezon became acquainted with her himself and then paraded the main street-with the priest’s handkerchief stuck jauntily in his pocket!
At about the same time he came in conflict with the other source of authority in the village. He quarreled with an officer of the civil guard over another girl. He managed to insert himself in the girl’s place at a rendezvous with the officer, knocked him down, and fled. It was a bitterly serious offense then to assault a Spanish officer. Quezon was caught, arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. But the authorities chose to mask the real reason for the quarrel, not caring to mention the female element; they justified Quezon’s arrest merely by asserting that he was a revolutionary-which was untrue. He had scarely heard of the Filipino independence movement at this time. He began to get interested in it. The affair gave him the idea that the revolutionaries-no matter what their politics-must be nice people.
These two anecdotes, lost in years and trivial as they may seem to be, were important. Quezon would have become a revolutionist anyway, since it is his nature to expand and rebel, but this early conflict with authority sharpened him for the struggle to come, told him with irresistible pressure on which side be belonged.
Anecdotes about Quezon are abundant. Yet they do not build up into a legend. There is nothing hazy or mythological about him. He is an exceptionally concrete and compact man. He has a genius for directness, and also for the unexpected.
His nephew, training to be a cadet in an army preparatory school, was one of a group recently convicted of a hazing offense. Quezon is an enemy of nepotism- indeed it is rule in the civil service that no two relatives may work in the same office-and he expelled the entire group of cadets, nephew included. His wife pleaded with him; Quezon was adamant, asserting that the punishment must be a lesson to the army as a whole. A month later, he gave the cadets a chance to get their commissions after all, by serving for eighteen months as privates. Once, the nephew was on guard duty at Malacanan palace, the residence of the president. Quezon heard that his wife was secretly feeding the lad in the palace kitchen. He ordered her to stop this, or else feed the entire two hundred privates in the guard.
He is exceptionally impulsive and generous. Once when Malacanan was being restored he noticed a workman who didn’t seem to be the ordinarily type of Filipino laborer. Quezon talked to him, found that he was a student out of a job, and gave him clerical work inside the palace. The next day the whole working crew struck and asked for the same kind of easier work.
Nothing daunts him. Crossing the Atlantic once he taught the ship’s orchestra to play the Filipino national anthem by tapping out the tune with one finger on the piano-though he hadn’t touched a keyboard for years-and though Paderewski was a fellow passenger and startled onlooker!
He is something of a scamp. Once, courting his wife, he arrived wearing a spray of orange blossoms. She asked him why. He said airily,”Oh, I’ve just been married!” The poor lady burst in tears, so that Quezon knew that she really loved him.
His approach is inveterately personal. When a political prisoner is arrested, which isn’t very often. Quezon usually talks to him himself. Once a prisoner had been arrested for making amateur bombs. He was the driver of a carabao (buffalo) cart earning fifteen cents a day. Quezon said, “This is ridiculous. No wonder, you are a bomb-thrower. No one can live on fifteen cents a day.” And he ordered his release.
His temper flashes quickly over little things. He may violently rebuke a secretary, and twenty minutes later completely forget what the trouble was about. He likes to quote a saying of his father’s: “Better one day red than three days blue.”
He is full of histrionics. His wise, intensely mobile features make him an excellent mimic and actor. When he is bored or petulant, anyone who knows him well knows it instantly, because his thick eyebrows shoot up, and his long and expressive nostrils twitch.
He is almost startlingly informal; he make his very informality dramatic. Saying good-by to his great friend Roy Howard when Howard was in Manila last, he called alone at Howard’s hotel, and simply walked in unattended and unannounced. He takes guests out yachting; he drives them home to their dwellings himself. But woe to anyone who abuses this unformality by wanton insult to the dignity of his position. Swift and stinging rebuke came once to an American who, dancing at a party where Quezon was a guest, slapped him on the shoulder with a gay “Hi, Manuel!”
He is very Latin and expensive with great affection for his own roots, his own past. In his home in Pasay, a suburb of Manila, he has a large airplane photograph of the village where he was born, marked: “Here I First Saw the Light of Day.” In his official residence he has built up a veritable museum of Quezoniana. Last year he was pleased beyond measure to recover at last a knife he lost when he was captured in 1899 by American troops. But he was never been able to trace and find the sword he sold for twelve pesos when the war was over.
Loyalty, gratitude are good political weapons, and Quezon knows it well. Dozens of friends, who helped him in the early days have been rewarded with jobs or pensions. He held a man named Antonio in such affection-Antonio fed and housed him when he was poor-that he adopted his name as part of his own. He has great sympathies for the old and poor. When he was a young lawyer he charged the poor no fees, and soaked the rich.
His wife told him recently, with considerable perturbation, that she had discovered their cook, whom he greatly admired, to be a communist. Quezon went straight to the kitchen. He returned and told his wife, “The cook is not a communist. If he were a duke, he would be for the dukes. But he’s a cook, and so he’s for the cooks.”
He likes to do things quickly. He got General Douglas MacArthur to come to Manila as his military adviser and superintendent of the military establishment of the islands in five minutes of talk. He said to MacArthur,”I want your answer to just one question: Are the islands defensible?”MacArthur said,”Yes”, and Quezon offered him the job.
He seldom stands on ceremony and he always knows when it is wise to recede. Recently he stated that Tagalog, his native dialect, should become the official language of the islands. Then it was discovered that Tagalog did not contain enough of the technical vocabulary necessary to modern government. So he dropped the idea without a murmur.
After his election to the presidency he called together the rich Manilans who had supported him and paid for his campaign. “Gentlemen,” he said in effect,”let there be no misunderstanding between us. Of course I know, now that I am in office, that you do not anticipate any political favors. You have contributed to my campaign, but surely you do not expect to derive profit from having done so. If you should have such an assumption, you would be dishonoring yourselves, by suggesting that you had attempted to bribe the President, and also myself, by suggesting that the President could be bribed.” The rich Manilans were too staggered to say a word.
Once, years ago in Washington, he was chatting with friends in the office of Secretary of War Stimson. Stimson turned to him suddenly: “Quezon, do you really want independence for the Filipinos?” Quezon smiled and told the anecdote of the young Spaniard who always asserted that it was his ambition to become bishop of the church. The Spaniard ended up happily enough as a janitor for the church property. Quezon winked.
A superb politician, he knows all the approaches. Once a group of legislators wasn’t doing the work he expected of it. He announced, “I won’t fire you, but if your job isn’t finished by next Monday, I’ll write a letter to the newspapers under my own name denouncing you as incompetent.” The job was done by Monday.
Once Lloyd George said of De Valera: “he is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork.” Quezon has something of this defiantly fluid quality.
Don Manuel Luis Quezon Antonio y Molina was born in Baler, a small town on the island of Luzon, on August 19, l878. His father was a Filipino schoolmaster, certainly not rich, but not desperately poor, a member of the illustrado class; his mother, Molina by name, who also taught school, was partly Spanish. Young Quezon was a bright lad, but lazy. As a schoolboy his nickname was gulerato-bluffer. The family pinched itself to send him to Manila, eighty miles away, where he studied first at San Juan de Letran, a junior college, and then at the law school of the University of Santo Tomas. His studies were interrupted by the revolution against Spain in 1898.
The Philippine Islands, discovered by Magellan in 152l, were forlorn and almost forgotten remnants of the Spanish Empire. That Empire, corrupt and decadent, was governed by remote control from Madrid, but most actual power was in the hands of the local Catholic Church plus a few Spanish grandees and landowners. The Filipinos – about 9,000.000 of them then and perhaps 14,000,000 now – are in the main Malay by race, Christianized by Spain and with strong admixtures of Spanish blood. They are an easygoing people, but they rose against Spanish oppression under the patriot Aguinaldo, and were fighting a bloody and successful revolution when the Spanish-American War broke out. America attacked Spain in Philippine waters, promising to help the revolutionaries. Then America, victorious, took the islands over; Aguinaldo continued his revolt against the United States, but he was captured in 190l, and the fighting fizzled out.
Young Manuel Quezon plunged melodramatically into this situation. He joined Aguinaldo, in a year rose from private to major, and fought the Americans. Advancing under a flag of truce he was told Aguinaldo had been taken and that the revolt was over. Quezon refused to believe this. The Americans took him to Manila and showed him Aguinaldo in captivity with his own eyes. Quezon spent six months in jail; his cell was a dungeon in the city walls near the southeathern gate, and not more than a hundred yards from the Letran school he had attended. When fifteen years later he returned to Manila from Washington with the Jones Law (which prepared the way for Philippine independence) in his pocket, the gate was renamed Quezon Gate in his honor.
Quezon was furious at the United States when the rebellion collapsed. The insurrectionists who fought with the Americans in the original struggle considered themselves betrayed. Out of jail, Quezon was so angry that he refused to learn English. But he met an American officer, General Bandholtz-the first American he had ever known well-and discovered promptly that Americans were not Spaniards. Bandholtz said that Quezon must learn English and that he would pay Quezon, instead of vice versa, to take lessons from him! Then Bandholtz was transferred from the islands; Quezon dropped English, and did not take it up again until he become Philippine Commissioner in Washington in 1909, when he learned it with astounding speed.
Quezon’s first years after the revolution were difficult. He resumed the study of law, while scratching out a living at odd jobs. His father died, and he returned to Baler to settle the family estate; then he began practice in Tayabas province. He was at once successful. Politics beckoned. He gave up his job, at which he was earning $500 per month to accept a position as local fiscal or prosecuting attorney, at $75. He got a national reputation almost at once by daring to prosecute a prominent American lawyer for fraud; this was as early as 1904, when it was almost unheard of for a youthful Filipino to attack a foreigner. By 1906 he had become governor of Tayabas; by 1908, when he was thirty, he was floor leader of the Filipino Assembly, and obviously the coming man.
The next twenty-five years were all variations on a single theme; the stubborn and wary campaign of Manuel Quezon to achieve independence for his country. Battles with ill-health; spectacular junkets; a local struggle for power with Señor Osmeña, alternately his rival and running mate in Filipino affairs-these were subordinate to the unchanging main current of his life. Two things helped Quezon cardinally. One was the very considerable anti-imperialist sentiment in the United States which steadily favored liberation of the islands on political grounds. The other was the sugar lobby in Washington, which I will touch on later. Very early Quezon saw that the key to everything was Washington. So he contrived to become Resident Commissioner there; a post which he held from 1909 to 1917. He was an effective lobbyist. He helped arrange the appointment of the Pro-Filipino Francis Burton Harrison as governor general in 1913, and he was spiritual if not temporal author of the Jones Bill in 1916. He knew also that complete independence-too soon-might wreck the islands economically; he had continually to plot a sinuous middle course. By 1917 he saw that Manila was a better strategic post than Washington; he became President of the Philippine Senate and as such the first man of the islands. He had years of passionate struggle with General Wood, a governor who reversed the Harrison policy; he ingratiated himself with other governors, cajoling, bluffing, threatening. He dodged back and forth to Washington. Finally in 1934 came the Tydings-McDuffie Bill, which tentatively at least won the fight. The Philippine became a commonwealth of autonomous status with complete independence promised in 1946.
Quezon went to the country and won its first presidential election. His chief opponent, whom he overwhelmed was old General Aguinaldo, who wanted independence without compromise and at once, Quezon moved into Malacanan palace, and the Aguinaldo governor, now know as the high commissioner, rented a house in town.
Quezon is sixty-one. He doesn’t look it. He lives hard still, and works a long and restless day. Usually he is up at dawn, and he likes to entertain at breakfast. As chief executive of the islands he has to face multitudinous administrative decisions; on anything important his is the final word. He reads the papers carefully, and a clipping bureau in America sends him by weekly airmail a big packet of news. He receives visitors in a comfortable airy room on the second floor of Malacañan decorated in gamboge and orange. He has what seems to be a velvet swivel chair, and photographers snap pictures of El Presidente and his guest as they converse. Next day the photographers try to sell the pictures to the visitors.
The President two or three times a week makes surprise inspections anywhere in Manila. Without warning, without ceremony, he drops in at a local police station, a tobacco factory, a prison or any government department; if all is not in order, the feathers fly. He likes to listen to grievances. Sometimes he eats luncheon with workmen out in the yard.
He loves good clothes; the splendor and multiplicity of his shirts are famous. For his own dress he has invented a semi-uniform of high russet riding breeches, a soft white shirt, and a high buttoned military tunic with a high collar. But often he receives visitors informally, wearing a polo shirt open at the neck. At home he wears native Tagalog dress, which he claims to be exceptionally comfortable .
If he ever lost his job he could make an easy living at cards. He is indisputably one of the best poker players in the world. Lately he has taken up bridge, too, and like it even better than poker. Most of his relaxation nowadays comes on his yacht, the Casiana, on which he cruises and dines when the day’s work is done. He got it, a bargain at a reputed price of 100,000 pesos ($50,000), from an American oil magnate. He reads a good deal in a utilitarian way, especially when he wakes up, restless, very early in the morning, but he is an impatient reader who finds it hard to finish books he has begun. He plays golf a little and sometimes practices mashie shots in Malacanan garden. He likes to ride, and is a tolerable horseman.
There is bar in the palace, and he asserts that he has never refused a drink, but in fact he drinks rather little. At one reception at Malacañan that I attended, no alcohol was served at all . The President likes to joke about liquor as he likes to joke about the ladies. Old photographs show him with wonderful twirling mustachios over a jaw-breaking collar; he says he cut them off because they tickled the girls too much.
He said, “When I left Manila, the doctors told me that I could drink nothing intoxicating. When I reached Java I saw a doctor and he said a glass of beer would not hurt. So I drank beer from Java to Paris. In Paris another doctor said, “You should not drink beer; wine is the thing.” So I changed gratefully to wine. Then a French specialist told me, “You should drink only champagne; it is the only drink for you.” So I drank champagne for a time. Then I reached the United States, and the physicians said, “Don’t drink wines or beer at all, but only whisky.” So now, if I want a drink, all I have to do is decide which physician I shall obey.”
He is fond of good food, but of his trim figure too. Before he underwent a serious operation at Johns Hopkins in 1934, he asked for adobo, a highly seasoned Filipino specialty consisting of beef steamed in venegar, then fried with garlic. The doctors wouldn’t let him have it. He enjoyed his operation, which was for gallstones, immensely; he dramatized every detail, and the newspapers in Manila carried front page photographs of all the instruments the surgeons used. He said afterward, “All I have is a thin red line that looks like a pin scratch, and I can say that it is even elegant.”
But what he likes most of all is a junket. His political pilgrimages have carried him all over the world, and nothing is lacking to make the journeyings impressive. El Presidente travels with a flash and a flourish. Special trains, mass meetings, speeches are in order, and the entourage is huge. Usually Quezon takes with him a doctor, two or three secretaries, a military aide and a half dozen hangers-on. He has learned more than one lesson from the politics of the United States; he is a junketeer par excellence and his expense accounts are wonderful to behold.
In Manila Quezon goes from place to place in a big Chrysler Airflow with special glass which impedes the view inside. Contrary to report it is not armored or bullet proof. But there is a small revolver in the side compartment which contains writing materials, cigarettes, and the like. It bears license plate No. l.
He wanted to attend the coronation of George VI of England during his European trip in 1937, but the British foreign office didn’t know quite what precedence to give him, and informally persuaded the Americans to ask him not to go. On this trip, he had planned to go to Ireland and Denmark, also the U.S.S.R., to study agrarian problems; time cut his itinerary short. In Germany he saw Schacht, but not Hitler. On the way he visited Cuba and Mexico; for the Mexican President Cardenas he has terrific admiration.
About Mussolini Quezon once said, “He talks loudly but everyone can rely upon him to do the right thing.” About Hitler: “That’s not my idea of a leader.” The President calls himself “almost a communist” except that he believes in the right of private property. But he also believes that the government has the privilege of curbing the right of private property “if and when public good demands it.”
His wife, whom he adores, and who has considerable influence over him, is his first cousin. Her name was Aurora Aragon; he eloped with her to Hong Kong in 1918 after an interrupted boyhood romance. She is a pretty and cultivated woman, and a good Roman Catholic. When they were in Mexico she told her husband that perhaps she might skip going to church for once, if church-going should embarrass his conversations with Cardenas; the President replied that she could blankety-blank well go to church any time and any place she chose. The Quezons have three children, Maria Aurora, who is eghteen, Zenaida, seventeen and Manuel Jr, twelve.
Doña Aurora doesn’t pay much attention to politics-her hobbies are orchids, her collection of dolls, and her two thousand books -but she did contribute something to the woman suffrage movement in the islands. Quezon was lukewarm on the issue, and, hoping to forestall it, arranged a compromise providing that suffrage should come if 300,000 women voted for it within a year. No one thought that 300,000 women could be found who would vote. But Mme, Quezon plunged into the campaign and the votes were found Quezon was uneasy, because most women voters are in the hands of the priests, whom he thinks have enough power already. But he did not want to oppose his wife’s wishes.
Quezon and Paul V. McNutt, the present high commissioner, are not intimate friends, but relations between the governments are quite correct. Quezon hoped that another man would be appointed and that in any case he should be consulted on the appointment; McNutt’s name was rushed through before Quezon got to Washington, and for several days he sulked, refusing to call on McNutt until Roy Howard smoothed the matter, over, Quezon says that nowadays he likes to see McNutt in order to get away from the local politicians. He records that his friendship with him was cemented by a poker game, in which both were winners – Quezon, however, by a bigger margin.
The McNutt toast story set tongues wagging on several continents. What really happened was this. When McNutt arrived on the islands the Japanese Consul General gave him an official dinner, at which the first toast was to the Emperor of Japan, the second to the President of the United States, the third to President Quezon, the fourth (after rather a long pause) to High Commissioner McNutt. The next day McNutt wrote a private and confidential memorandum to the consular corps asking that this procedure be henceforth corrected, since officially he, as representative of the President of the United States, outranked Quezon. He didn’t want a scandal; he was as embarrassed as was Quezon when the story got out, which it did when the Japanese tipped off the newspapers.
Some time later, asserting his prerogative to be consulted in all international matters, McNutt asked that correspondence between the various consuls and Malacanan be routed, as was correct, through him. The Japanese sought to get around this by using the telephone instead of writing.
Quezon has a fabulous number of friends all over the world. In Manila those closest to him are probably his secretary Jorge Vargas, who is his man-about-politics, and his aide-de-camp Major Manuel Nieto. Nieto is the Bruckner of the regime, the confidential bodyguard. He knows all the secrets; when Quezon went on the operating table at Johns Hopkins, he dictated to Nieto the letters that were to be opened only in the event of his death. Nieto, a fine athlete and boxer, was in the tobacco business before taking his present post. Also close to Quezon are the four Elizalde brothers, of an old and distinguished Spanish family who took out Filipino citizenship recently. They are very rich; the four compose their own quite good polo team. Another person close to the President is Adong, the seventy-year-old Chinese body servant who goes with him everywhere, who has been with him forty years, and who sleeps on a bench outside the master’s bedroom.
Like most good American politicians Quezon gets on nicely with newspaper men. Once he promised Dick Wilson, Manila correspondent of the United Press, some letters of introduction to friends in China; he was suddenly stricken with appendicitis and actually while being wheeled to the operating theater he saw Wilson in the hall, and remembered to call a secretary to tell him not to forget the letters. His press conferences are quite informal. Ninety percent of what is said is off-the-record. Once the correspondents asked him about a matter in connection with his personal religious history. Quezon couldn’t remember a date exactly. He reached for the phone, telephoned his wife, and got it from her.
No one knows with certainty who will succeed Quezon when his six years are concluded in 1941. Resolutely, the President has stated that he will take no second term, which indeed is forbidden by the new constitution.. One obvious candidate is Vice-President Osmeña, who, incidentally, is partly Chinese in origin as Quezon is partly Spanish. Another is Manuel Roxas, a lawyer for the sugar interest and former speaker of the assembly, who like Osmeña has a checkered career of affiliation and opposition to Quezon. Another is the present minister of the interior, Elpidio Quirino, dictatorial in tendency, whom the President finds useful, but who is said to be rough and too anxious for the job. Insiders say that another possibility is Judge Teofilo Sison, who was a good secretary of the interior and chairman of the inauguration committee when Quezon became President.
Quezon’s religious history is curious. He was, of course, born a Roman Catholic, but he was not confirmed until he was fourteen, although the usual age is three or four. Then he joined the revolution and became a Freemason, when Masonry, forbidden by the Spanish regime, was a symbol of the independence movement. He rose to be a thirty-second degree Mason, but was reconverted to Catholicism in 1928 after two decades of apostasy. His wife strongly wanted him to reenter the church for the sake of the children. He was ill with tuberculosis; he took communion when he thought he might be on his deathbed, but only-a typical enough Quezon touch-after saying he would refuse to believe in miracles. He is a Catholic, like everything else, on his own terms.
Stories to the contrary notwithstanding, Quezon is not particularly rich. His salary is only 30,000 pesos ($15,000) per year, and he needs every cent of it. He was always an easy spender; after several years of successful law practice in l905, he made a great ceremony of giving a friend all the money he had saved-four dollars! He has some real estate, but he is no millionaire.
One could list many of the sources of Quezon’s power. For instance he is indisputably the best orator in the islands in any of three languages. English, Spanish, or Tagalog. His considerable charm, his patriotism, his executive capacity, his curious combination of American characteristics, like aggressive practically, plus a Latin heritage of suppleness and adroit facility in negotiation, all contributed to his career. But his knack of getting along well with both rich and poor, with the miserably fed peasants of the countryside as well as the Spanish millionaires in Manila, is probably his single most valuable characteristic, according to the best informants in Manila. The masses adore him, because he give them something. The rich like him too. By using both he has built up an irresistible machine.
The question of independence is alluringly complex, even if we do not touch upon the question whether or not the Filipinos are capable of self-government. Early in 1939 the situation provided one of the most attractive paradoxes we shall find in all this long tour of the East. It is that Manuel Quezon, having devoted the whole of his life to Philippine independence, isn’t so sure that he wants it; it is that the people of the Philippine Islands, after forty years of agitation which have brought them to the threshold of nationhood, are increasingly alarmed that they are going to get-what they asked for.
A word on background. The Tydings-McDuffie Act provides an interim period until 1946 in which the United States retains certain rights in the islands, and is responsible for their defense. America is to give up its military bases in 1946, though the question of naval bases is left open. Until 1946, American law controls matters of tariff, immigration, debt, currency, and foreign trade. In 1946, all this is cut off. The country becomes the Philippine Republic and swims-or sinks-alone. The theory behind the Act was to provide a ten-year transition during which the islands could learn-to swim.
Now there are several points of view among Filipinos in regard to independence. Some outright folk like Aguinaldo want unconditional independence at once. They call Quezon a trimmer. Some would like a “Permanent Commonwealth,” i.e., the status quo extended in perpetuity in the form of something resembling Dominion Status.. There are some who stand by the Tyding-McDuffie Act. And there are the Retentionists, who do not want independence at all, though they are not often hold enough to say so outright. Among Retentionists are the reactionary clergy, who fear social revolution when the islands are left to themselves, and the sugar interests, who know that they will no longer sell sugar profitably to the United States-and sugar is by far the most important item in the economic life of the islands -when it becomes a foreign commodity and must pass an American tariff wall. At present Filipino sugar enters the United States duty free.
The Tydings-Mcduffie Act provides that beginning in 1940 the Filipinos will be charged a five percent export tax on sugar, rising five percent per year until a full tax of twenty-five percent is reached by 1946, so that the economy of the islands may adjust itself to the loss of the free American market. No one knows what future revenue will be. No one can dare to estimate future programs of public work, national finance, and the like, planning of which ought to begin to-day.
In essence the struggle for Filipino freedom is a struggle between two competing spheres of sugar interests. This is basic fact.
American sugar, and Cuban sugar which is controlled by New York finance, want the islands to be independent, so that Filipino sugar will have to pay duty in America and enter the American market at a severe and possibly fatal handicap.
Filipino sugar fears full independence. It prefers the status quo, so that it may continue to flourish by free entry into the American market, which will be lost when the islands become a foreign state and have to climb a tariff barrier.
Thus an odd situation; American interests tend to support the liberation of the Philippines, whereas Filipino interests tend to prefer the present situation, i.e., their own servitude. Patriotism? But the Filipinos say that real patriotism is to avoid independence if its result is suicide. Seventy-two percent of Philippine trade is with the United States; sixty percent of this is sugar.
American imperialism has never been as tenacious or grasping as European imperialism; the United States is not a one hundred percent imperialist power. The Filipinos know this, and are grateful. If you ask a Filipino why almost no one harbors deep or passionate resentment against the United States-as a Arab, say, may harbor resentment against an Englishman-he will say that, first, America was a veritable fairy godmother compared to Spain, and second that America has always been willing to clear out.
Immediately after Quezon’s inauguration a curious thing occurred. The President took Roy Howard for a cruise on the Casiana. When Howard returned he wrote an obviously inspired story-this was in 1935!-to the effect that the “dream of Philippine Independence was fading.” If Quezon, having just won his fight, was indicating by this that he hadn’t wished to win it, he might justly have been accused to monstrous hypocrisy. But probably the story was a ballon d’essai to sound out political opinion in the United States; Quezon didn’t want America to cut the Philippines adrift too soon.
In l937, Quezon took the uttermost opposite line. He came to Washington and asked for complete independence at once. He said:
“The Philippines have been assisted economically and schooled politically by the United States for almost forty years. No people in history, coming under a foreign flag, have ever been treated so generously . . . We are as competent to govern ourselves now as we can possibly be eight year’s hence . . . . Under actual test the terms of the Independence Act are proving surprisingly capable of creating irritation. One high commissioner, even if of the highest character, if lacking in sympathy could create a most unfortunate clash . . . . One (American) Congress. Consequently, as long as we are bound by the present Independence Act which we have no power to alter, the Philippines will continue to be at the mercy of every self-seeking group of lobbyists capable of log-rolling a tariff or commercial quota to our disadvantage.”
Also Quezon must have feared that President Roosevelt might be succeeded by a Republican Administration in 1940, which might repeal the Tydings-Mcduffie Bill. This was in early 1937, By 1939 the situation had changed again. Reason: the Japanese campaign in China.
The flamboyant MacArthur, former chief of staff of the United States Army and now a Philippine Field Marshal, believes firmly that the Filipinos, even if absolutely cut off from America, could defend themselves. General MacArthur has a battery of technical reasons to support his claim. The Filipino general staff agrees with him. For one thing they say that air power would not be effective against the islands, and that an infantry invasion is hardly possible. The Filipino army is training 40,000 recruits a year, and is turning into a good fighting force. But the islands have little of the industrial equipment upon which modern war depends. They have no navy, and to assert that they could alone withstand a major war seems childish. A war would be a disaster.
Very much in the islands have genuine fear of Japan. They think that if America goes, Japan will come in.There is a close-knit and powerful Japanese colony in Davao, perhaps 15,000 in all, growing hemp-and possibly trouble.
In July 1938, Quezon made a sudden brief holiday visit to Tokyo. He had been there several times before, and the Japanese do their utmost to be nice to him. Quezon denied hotly a story to the effect that he sounded out official opinion in regard to Japanese intention toward the Philippines. Japan, he said, was willing after 1946 to adhere to an agreement neutralizing the islands, according to former pronouncements of policy. Yet it would be an insult to Mr. Quezon’s very active intelligence to suggest that he does not know that Japan is hungry for just the sort of loot the riches of the Philippines, including very large gold deposits, provide.
One can be sure that Quezon has heard of Czechoslovakia. He will not be caught and squeezed out like Dr. Benes. One can be sure at least of one thing; if the islands are alone, Quezon will make the best terms with Japan that he can get.
Politically the Philippines are an advanced democracy, at least in theory; economically they are still in the feudal age.
Spain left its ugly heritage. Industry is largely in the hands of a few Spanish aristocrats; the land is held largely by great landowners or by the Church. Less than one-fifth of one percent of the landowners own twenty-one percent of the total arable land. They give staggeringly lavish parties in Manila; their tenants pay the taxes; the peasants starve. In one district in central Luzon ninety percent of the land is owned by two percent of the people. The landless proletariat numbers ten percent of the total population. Agrarian wages may be as low as fifteen cents a day. The church has vast properties, some gained by gifts or purchases through the title, some donated by the penitent.
Quezon has begun cautiously a program of breaking up the big estates. He would like, as he says, to “complete the revolution,” and abolish feudalism; he must move very slowly. He promises much. But he is roughly in the position that President Roosevelt would face if, attacking Wall Street, he knew that all his cabinet and perhaps seventy percent of his majority were Wall Street men. Quezon knows that to make a real revolution he must destroy feudalism. i.e., the power of the Church. This he can do only by destroying himself too.
Opposition to Quezon is feeble. In 1935, a group known as the Sakdalists staged an uprising, and its leader, Benigno Ramos, fled to Japan. Nowadays a Popular Front embracing everyone from communists to the “national socialists” of Aguinaldo has been organized to combat the President, but it has not got very far. One dissident leader of consequence is the liberal head of the Philippine Independent Church, Bishop Aglipay. The popularity of Quezon is great-and carefully nurtured-and no real opposition leader is in sight. In the last election Quezon won every seat. There is not a single opposition deputy.
Indeed, members of the Popular Front do not dislike or oppose Quezon, whom they regard as the father of the country, as a man or a leader; they simply want him to modify his policy. Their complaints are that he has created a bureaucratic dictatorship; that he controls not only the executive, but the judiciary, the army, the legislature, the entire complex of government; that he is afraid of the Church and the big landowners; that his economic program is too slow. They do not want to replace Quezon; they want to swing him to the Left.
Quezon was profoundly impressed by Roosevelt and Cardena in 1937; he returned to announce a kind of New Deal for the islands under the name of the “Social Justice” program. This, he announced, gave expression to a “distributist” philosophy, a middle path between capitalism and socialism; he said that it was the duty of the government to use every means it had to force the distribution of wealth so that the rich would be less rich and the poor less poor. “I do not believe,” he said, “that any one can earn a million pesos by his brain alone. If that is communism, then I am a communist.” He inaugurated a minimum wage for government employees (one peso per day). and set about a new tax program.
Thus Quezon at sixty-one. Perhaps a tongue is in that roguish cheek. The next few years will tell.