Quezon’s Role in Philippine Independence (Excerpt)

From “Quezon’s Role in Philippine Independence,” by Joseph F. Hutchinson Jr., in Compadre Colonialism: Studies in the Philippines under American Rule, edited by Norman G. Owen, University of Michigan Press, University of Michigan Center for South East Asian Studies, 1971.

Quezon’s most dominant characteristic was his ability to manipulate people; he had a proud, volatile, and charismatic personality which he used skillfully to mobilize Filipinos behind him. His personal flair and political force quickly made him a prominent national figure, and his keen understanding of the intricacies of Philippine politics enabled him to build up a permanently loyal following. By publicly advocating immediate, complete, and absolute independence for the Philippines, he became a national symbol to his people. Filipinos were mobilized into a more viable polity by their admiration for Quezon s dynamic personality. He made himself the embodiment of national unity, will, dignity, and desire for independence, and Filipinos responded by praising his ability to mingle with other world leaders and by reveling vicariously in his political pomp and grandeur.

Quezon’s personality was also mercurial, however, and to understand him it is necessary to study the sly, ambivalent, and sometimes ruthless side of his personality. Quezon’s private correspondence shows how he manipulated the Filipino people so that he could continue his rule over them. He also deceived his own friends and lied to politicians in order to further his political ambitions. But he was extremely careful in his chicanery–he seldom allowed his lies to catch up with him publicly and undermine his position…

Quezon was successful in the pro- anti- fight primarily because he both understood the traditional personalism of Philippine politics and how to manipulate modern political institutions by his charisma and by his astute political judgment. He saw himself as a living bridge for his people between a new, somewhat alien, modern world and a traditional social system based on factions, kinship, and family alliances of his peasant-based society. His success lay in his ability to blend these relationships into a strong and unified leadership. Quezon’s mercurial personality and his keen understanding of key issues enabled him to put off independ- ence until a later date, to defeat Osmena and Roxas, to regain independence, and to continue in power over the Filipino people.

Part of Quezon’s success lay in his ability to become the leader of the Filipino politicians. Often resorting to ruthless political trickery or to overt lies, Quezon built up the most powerful political machine in the Islands. Quezon’s ability to detect and thwart any threats guaranteed his position as leader. Perhaps even more important than his political maneuvers was his forceful personality which won much respect and many followers among the ruling elite. Quezon’s personality and his use of patronage made most of the other politicians feel they owed him utang na loob.

However, Quezon’s role in Philippine independence cannot be seen solely as an ambitious use of power. While it is true that Quezon’s ego thrived on ceremonies and the praise political power awarded him, he also loved his people. Quezon delayed independence because he believed, like Louis XIV, that he was the state and that, therefore, he, and only he, should present independence to the people. Quezon realized that his charismatic leadership was the crucial unifying force for his people at the difficult time of formulating a Commonwealth government. Quezon knew how to give the peasant something tangible to believe in and to follow. Since Quezon could mobilize the peasants and unite the politicians, he gave the Philippines the kind of leadership necessary to make a successful transition from a traditional society to a modern political system.

In 1932 and 1933, Quezon was truly a harbinger of how other national leaders might attempt to mobilize their people on a mass basis. Like Quezon, Nkrumah and Sukarno, for example, clamored for independence and, after it was achieved, were able to keep their people united and interested in politics. They did this in part by filling a political void and by projecting their personalities as symbols of their nations. Some leaders were more successful and lasted longer than others; Quezon was one of the first and one of the most successful.

Joseph F. Hutchinson Jr.
Author: Joseph F. Hutchinson Jr.

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