Today’s Weekender: Repulsion and Colonization

TODAY’s Weekender

Repulsion and Colonization

by Manuel L. Quezon III

            The Wood-Forbes Mission arrived in Manila in May [1921], and was received with some apprehension….

            Many anecdotes were told about this trip…

            In Mindanao, an officer with the Mission approached a Moro and asked him his opinion of the political situation. The Moro answered him: “No, no, I do not want to say a word. If I say I like independence, the Americans get sore. And if I say I do not like independence, the Filipinos get sore. I say nothing.”

                                  Teodoro M. Kalaw

in his autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom

            THE scene was dramatic. The session hall of the Constitutional Convention, decorated with Filipino and American flags, was brightly lit with klieg lights. The hall itself was filled to capacity. Microphones were conspicuous, as the event that was about to take place was going to be broadcast over the radio. The date was February 19, 1935.

At thirty-five minutes past three in the afternoon, a portly gentleman wearing a bow tie stood up at the Speaker’s rostrum and banged a gavel, signifying the opening of the Convention’s last session. The portly gentleman was the President of the Convention, Claro M. Recto. Beside him was Quintin Paredes; they were soon joined by Manuel Roxas. The Secretary of the Convention then began calling upon the delegates to sign. Recto signed first. One delegate, Gregorio Perfecto of Manila, who was recovering from a paralytic attack, limped up to the Secretary’s table to sign the official copies -in English and Spanish- of the new Constitution. Perfecto was assisted by one of his daughters, and signed the documents with his own blood. Another delegate, Jose Zurbito of Masbate, had been ill for months but managed to show up. The other delegates signed with special gold pens or pens of historical significance. Only one delegate did not sign.

Tomas Cabili, delegate from Lanao, did not sign the 1935 Constitution because he did not vote in favor of it -the only delegate to vote “No,” in fact. During the Convention he had worked for Mindanao to have the right to vote for its own representatives, which up to then had been appointed by the Governor-General of the Philippines. According to Delegate Jose Aruego, who later wrote the definitive account of the Convention, Cabili was convinced that “the province of Lanao -except Sulu and Cotobato- should have been permitted by constitutional provision to have its… representatives elected by the direct vote of the people” (a curious statement; did this mean Cabili was only primarily concerned with Lanao and did not think that Sulu and Cotobato were worthy of electing their own Assemblymen?). Aruego pointed out that,

“Partly because of his efforts, the Constitution as approved by the Convention, on second reading, included a provision permitting all legislators from the island [of Mindanao] to be elected by the direct vote of the people. The Special Committee on Style, however… so amended the Constitution that the representatives of Lanao, together with those from the Mountain Province, Sulu, and Cotobato, should be selected in a manner to be determined by law. Delegate Cabili fought hard in the closing days of the Convention to give the people of Lanao the right to [vote] but his efforts were in vain.”

And so it was that when the 1935 Constitution was presented to the Philippines’ (still quite limited number of) voters, one of the three major groups to oppose the ratification of the Constitution were the leaders  from Lanao, Cotobato, and Sulu -although what percentage they represented of the 44,963 who actually voted against the charter is anybody’s guess.

Here was the Philippines, at the threshold of independence, soon to be free from the colonial yoke of the Americans, and the leaders of this soon-to-be independent state was already laying the foundations for a new kind of colonialism. What an ironic state of affairs; for even as the majority of Filipino leaders exulted over their having finally secured local autonomy and guaranteed independence, they made sure that those  very same things would be denied the Muslims in Mindanao. The Commonwealth of the Philippines was about to embark on internal colonialism -or colonization. The attitude of the leaders of the new Commonwealth was very clearly expressed by the new Chief Executive who wrote in his autobiography (The Good Fight )that,

“In the southern provinces, the most important question of all was the future of Mindanao… which for ages past had been under the Moros. They had never been subdued by the Spanish and were never disarmed by them…

“The American Army officers used alternately to fight the Moros and then to ‘baby’ them. The Moros are very artful and seldom agreed to any proposition made to them on the part of the Government except with feigned reluctance, and only in a manner calculated to put the executive under an obligation. I felt that this method on their part was only bluff, and I now addressed them on various occasions with straight-from-the shoulder declarations. This new method of handling them seemed to work excellently… we are glad to see them at length gradually settling into modern ways.”

Sovereignty over Mindanao had been negotiated -and then enforced, through the invention of the .45 caliber revolver, among other things- by the Americans during several campaigns distinct from the war which had destroyed the First Philippine Republic. Major General Elwell Otis, commander of the US Army forces quelling the “Philippine insurrection,” had ordered General John C. Bates to negotiate a treaty with Sultan Jamalul Kiram of Jolo, which he did, successfully. What came to be called the Bates Treaty was signed on August 20, 1899. The Americans’ English text read that “The sovereignty of the United States over the whole archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged,” while the “rights and dignities of His Highness the Sultan and his datos shall be fully respected,” and that the Americans would not interfere “on account of their religion.” Problems arose when it turned out that the Tausug version of the treaty had not relinquished the Sultan’s sovereignty.

Eventually when the Americans began exercising what they felt to be their sovereignty -by establishing the “Moro Province” in 1903 among other things-  there was war, which added luster to the careers of military men like Leonard Wood and John Pershing, and which resulted in several bloody campaigns which culminated in the Muslims finally accepting American sovereignty in 1915 (the Carpenter-Kiram Treaty).

While all of this was going on, of course, Filipinos could only fret over what they felt might turn out into a separate accommodation with the Moros. Teodoro M. Kalaw, for example, filed a bill in the Philippine Assembly in 1910 which “disapproved the dismemberment of Philippine territory until such a time as the American Congress could define the real political status of the Philippines” -at a time when there had already been four major Muslim uprisings.

The fear, that the Americans would dispose of Mindanao as they pleased since they had waged a separate campaign to subdue it, expressed so early on during the American regime by Kalaw, refused to go away -it actually increased as time went by, particularly during the term of that old Moro-subduer, Leonard Wood, as Governor-General of the Philippines. Even as Filipino officials had a fit over Wood’s thoroughly Republican plan to “run the government out of business,” Kalaw wrote that “There was also talk of separating from the Philippine archipelago the island of Mindanao, and subsequently Americanizing it.” The American chamber of commerce of Mindanao and Sulu had even sent a telegram to President Calvin Coolidge proposing Mindanao’s conversion to an unorganized territory under the American flag.

Matters came to a head when a Republican Congressman, Robert L. Bacon, filed a bill in the US. Congress (H.R. 12772, June 11, 1926), which sought to separate Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan from the jurisdiction of the Philippine Government, establishing a separate and distinct form of government in those areas directly under American sovereignty.  The first bill lapsed, and King filed it during the next session. justifying it on the grounds that,

“1….the Moros are essentially a different race from the Filipinos, that for hundreds of years there has existed bitter racial and religious hatred between the two and that complete union of the Filipinos under one government is distasteful to the Moros, who would prefer a continuance of American sovereignty;

“2. The terms of.. the Bates Treaty…

“3. The lack of true representation on the part of the Moros in the Philippine Legislature, their judges, prosecutors and Constabulary being at the present time Filipinos, in contrast to conditions existing prior to 1913;

“4. …[E]specially since 1916, ill feelings between Moros and Filipinos has increased, leading to frequent conflicts and bloodshed.”

Mass meetings were held in Manila to denounce the Bacon Bill. The Philippine Legislature condemned the bill; even General Aguinaldo, still in retirement, sent a telegram to Coolidge asking him to reject the Bill. The brouhaha died down, but King’s justification for his bill would rankle in the memory of Filipino leaders.

Hence the conviction of the leaders in the 1930s that the Muslims had to be dealt with firmly, if the interests of the nation they were building were to prevail. This was, at best, a confrontational attitude: “us” against “them.” The Muslims (or rather their leaders, this was the time, after all, when political affairs was still firmly in the hands of leaders who were only responsible to a limited electorate) were viewed as half-savage children who needed firm disciplining and tutelage -concepts which used to irritate Filipino leaders when they had begun to agitate for autonomy.

But first, back to the policies of the Philippine government, now that it was mainly in the hands of Filipinos. Quezon went on to explain in his book that,

“…there existed an international aspect of the Mindanao question, of profound importance to the Filipino nation. Unless we fully opened up, protected and settled, and thus made use of this great, rich, only partly developed island, some other nation might some day try to move in and make it their own. For the past twenty years, continued and successful efforts to colonize Mindanao from the north have been undertaken. The modern Filipino is not afraid of his kinsmen, the Moros. Settlers from the north have poured into the rich valley of the Cotobato. I asked General Paulino Santos to take charge of the new colony at Caronadal near Davao, which he did with conspicuous success. Secretary Rafael Alunan in the Cabinet was given supervision over all colonization affairs…”

So it was very clearly spelled out from the very start –colonization , the genesis of what would come to be called “Manila imperialism.” The international aspect of the “Mindanao question” would be confirmed soon enough when a controversy arose over the growing number of Japanese settlers in Mindanao in the late 1930s. Eventually the National Assembly would pass the Immigration Act of 1940 (still in force), to the outrage of the Japanese who complained that it was aimed specifically against them. The Philippine government, the Japanese foreign ministry suspected, even welcomed Jewish refugees from Germany (who were urged to settle in Mindanao) to counterbalance the growing presence of Japanese companies in Mindanao’s economy.

Of course once in power, leaders and policy makers usually reveal that they are incapable of appreciating ironies. They saw no contradiction between the rhetoric they had been repeating for twenty years -that the Filipino people were willing, ready, and able to assume responsibility for themselves- and their policy of refusing to extend the rights they enjoyed to minorities. Filipino leaders were genuinely concerned about Mindanao and began efforts to spur development -but only to relieve agrarian tensions elsewhere in the country (by fostering migration), allow the utilization of its natural resources, and most of all, to guarantee the integrity of the state they headed. The interests of their “kinsmen” was not considered at all.

Or to be more accurate, Muslim affairs were viewed within the context of how they could best be manipulated to the advantage of the new government (after all, the Muslims and their leaders at worst could be viewed as having handicapped the Filipino effort to convince the Americans that they were a homogeneous people desirous of home rule). I think this point better illustrates the Commonwealth government’s reaction to the succession crisis that arose in the Sultanate of Sulu.

Arnold Molina Azurin, in his essay, “City versus Ethnicity.” mentions, as an example of Quezonian egomania, that,

“Quezon was influencing the 1934 Constitutional Assembly to erode the traditional and historic powers of the Sultan of Sulu because he could not bear having another citizen exercising dominion over another territory, that of North Borneo. So, while the area south of Mindanao was incorporated by that Assembly as part of the national domain, the Sultanate’s claim of dominion was ignored -and thus was that vast and rich territory opened to foreign intervention and control, mainly on account of the egomania of the Nacionalista  power-wielder in Malacanang who could not live with the prospect of having another ruler in his ethnic domains.”

Mr. Azurin is referring, of course, to the definition of Philippine territory in the 1935 Constitution, as delineated in the Treaty of Paris and a treaty between the US and England “on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty,” his point being that the framers of the 1935 Constitution chose to accept the definition of the territory of the Philippines made by the colonial powers which ruled the Philippines and had interests in North Borneo; his point hinges on whether this was done deliberately, knowing the Sultan’s claim to Sabah, or if it was done in ignorance of the claim -not only that, it depends on whether it would have been prudent to question the colonial arrangements through a provision in a Constitution that had to be approved by the one of the powers in question. After all, after independence, the Sabah subject was brought up (that old reliable Francis Burton Harrison was hired as a government consultant in the matter; British Foreign Office official was said to have sneered that the claim a rather cheeky one for a newly-independent colony to make).

It is more useful to attribute what Mr. Azurin described to the conviction among Filipino leaders like Quezon that the Muslims were not to be trusted, which may or may not betray an egotistical attitude. Quezon, after all, refused to recognize a successor to the Sultan of Sulu when the last Sultan died during his term, an act which has repercussions to the present, as the heirs of the Sultan have continued quarreling among themselves, allowing Philippine presidents to favor one faction or another . This is, I would think, the origin of the state of affairs which has led Presidents of the Republic to become the attorneys, so to speak,  for the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, as happened under Marcos -meaning that Filipino leaders did seek to eliminate the influence of the Sultanate out of mere pique; it was deliberately done to neutralize what was perceived to be a threat to (in today’s parlance) “national security.”

The end result can all the more be seen as internal colonialism. Flooding Mindanao with Christian settlers -the way Americans flooded the Midwest in the US- became one of the most effective ways of ensuring that the island would stay in the hands of the Republic. By the 1950s, Muslim leaders like Domicao Alonto had become familiar fixtures in national politics, but still the leader from Mindanao who would rise the highest prior to the Marcos years was Emmanuel Pelaez, a Christian. The gradual extension of voting and other rights to the Muslims was accompanied by the gradual rise of Muslim politicians who played the game, Manila-style, or at least in the fashion adopted by provincial Christian warlords who had private armies; the supreme example of this new breed of Muslim leader was -is- Muhamed Ali Dimaporo.

The leaders who played politics Christian-style, whether those from the old ruling families or people like Dimaporo, represent a partial success for the colonial-style policies of Filipino leaders. Equivalent of the success with which the Americans got Filipino leaders to play politics American-style; the thing is that this style of co-optation may have been suited to first half of the twentieth but has begun to display serious limitations over the past thirty years. Just as the traditional means of keeping political power were challenged by the Student Movement and an increasing number of politicized “outsiders” (or outright rebels from the establishment) so did the Muslim leaders discover that their old-style patronage politics failed to satisfy people like Nur Misuari.

Nonetheless, Filipino politicians are if nothing else, a durable and adaptive lot, and as they have managed to survive and even flourish in the air of post-Marcos democracy, so has the Philippine government discovered that old tricks may be resorted to again. This is what we see happening in Mindanao now. Even as some members of the military establishment remain convinced that the only way to end the “Mindanao problem” will take a “Final Solution” (whatever the term may mean, and I suspect it means something grisly), other military men are content to bargain with the Muslims while also preparing for a final conflict if it becomes necessary. At the same time, in true colonial fashion, the Christian majority in Mindanao, or at least the political leaders thereof, yell appeasement and sell-out: or at least they did until Nur Misuari suddenly displayed behavior that was quite recognizably in traditional Filipino political style; then all of a sudden the shrill cries subsided, becoming constant grumbling instead.

It may yet turn out that in one fell stroke the current (Ramos) Administration has achieved something that was half-heartedly attempted before: the co-optation of Muslim leaders by making them “one of the boys” politically, with access to patronage and pork barrel funds. This time, the government has gone all-out and decided to give everyone a share of the loot, in the hope that this attempt to share the wealth will make everyone, Christian and Muslim alike, happy.

Which will lead to the greatest irony of all -the achievement of Muslim integration into the body politic because of the lure of pork. Barrel, that is. Which doesn’t mean that in the end, this will still represent another colonial success story -all the more sweet because it’s home-grown colonization.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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