Indonesian and Dutch Reactions to the Philippine Struggle for Independence (Excerpt)

“Indonesian and Dutch Reactions to the Philippine Struggle for Independence,” by Adrian B. Lapian. Paper read at the International Conference on the Centenary of the Philippine Revolution and the First Asian Republic, Jakarta, Indonesia, August 28-30, 1997. pp.

The year 1928 was also a turning point for the Philippines when Henry L. Stimson arrived in Manila to assume his post as governor-general replacing Leonard Wood who died on August 7, 1927. It was the beginning of the end of the critical decade, and the Great Debate of 1929-1933 towards compromise could begin which eventually led to the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Bill in 1934, promising full independence after a 10-year period of Commonwealth government.

In Batavia, Fock was succeeded by A.C.D. de Graeff, former Netherlands ambassador in Washington. In Indonesian historiography he is usually described as progressive. He increased the power of the Volksraad and provided for a joint Indonesian and Chinese majority in the Council which drew the comment of Stimson (at the time still governor-general) that “De Graeff has been introducing our methods.” But De Graeff, too, was of the opinion that the Americans were acting too hastily and on too wide a scale to give the Philippine Legislature so much power.

More exhaustive research has to be carried out to dig out Indonesian reactions from the newspapers and documents. During this period the Indonesian press was actively disseminating news about developments in the Philippines. In Holland, Lambertus N. (“Nick”) Palar, Indonesian associate of the Nederlandsch Verbond van Vakvereenigingen (Dutch Alliance of Trade Unions), gave a review of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act in the weekly De Strijd (The Struggle). In his analysis he also mentioned American motives that made acceptance of the bill possible: the actions of economic pressure groups and resistance against Philippine migration in the United States. He argued that the Americans wanted to remain good friends with Filipinos, which would be advantageous to the United States if a war on supremacy in the Pacific would break out. 

It goes without saying that the acceptance of the Act by the U.S. House of Representatives was received enthusiastically in Indonesian nationalist circles. In a meeting of the Jakarta branch of Partindo, Amir Sjarifuddin and Mohammad Yamin gave glowing speeches, and the board decided to send a cable of congratulations to Manuel Quezon.


In Indonesian historiography, the year 1938 is not as significant a year such as, for example, 1928 and 1945. In the present context, however, it should have our special attention as it was in November of that year when the Dutch government rejected the Soetardjo Petition. Soetardjo and the co-signers of the petition in the People’s Council (Ratu Langi, Kasimo, Date Toemenggoeng, Ko Kwat Tiong and Alatas) submitted on July 15, 1936, pleaded for a conference between representatives of the Netherlands and the Netherlands East Indies to discuss “on an equal footing a plan that would give the Netherlands Indies
a state of independence through gradual reforms within a period of ten years, within the context of Article 1 of the [Dutch] Constitution.”

Although not explicitly stated, the time span of 10 years would suggest that the petitioners had the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Bill in mind. Indeed during the debate the Philippines was frequently mentioned. Some opponents of the petition remarked that events in neighboring Philippines had stimulated in Indonesia the wish to become independent. But, they argued, the Philippines is not a good point for comparison. There the forced conversion of the indigenous people to Christianity under Spanish rule resulted in a more Western-oriented development of the people, and broad layers of the population were more educated and had grown into a more homogeneous unity than the inhabitants of the Indonesian archipelago. Moreover, some voiced warnings that great difficulties were expected for the Philippines in connection with their independence. 

The signers replied in a memorandum (received August 15, 1936), wondering what kind of difficulties were expected in connection with Philippine independence, although they believed that such problems should be safely left to the Philippine leaders themselves who had, according to the opinion of competent American statesmen, revealed an unequalled degree of statemanship” (dat men die vraagstukken gerust aan de Philipijnsche leiders kan overlaten, waarvan velen volgens het
oordeel van competente Amerikaansche staatslieden en ongeevenaarde staatsmanskunst hebben geopenbaard).

They agreed that the independence movement in Indonesia was also being influenced by events in the Philippines. Surely one could not expect a Chinese wall to be erected to keep off the influx of ideas from abroad. Ideas happen to be toll-free, even though expressions of them are sometimes obstructed (Gedachten zijn nu eenmaal tolvrij, al legt men ok de uitingen ervan aan banden).

But if some members thought to be free to ascribe the progress of the Philippines to Christianity, then the signers – although reluctantly – could refer to Japan which was not a Christian country, yet had experienced in a time span of 10 years a development in the Western sense that could not be demonstrated anywhere else. For the rest the signers considered it unnecessary to make comparisons with other countries. One had to judge what was possible and needed in Indonesia. 

The Dutch refusal of the Soetardo petition was in sharp contrast with American policy in the Philippines where, since 1935, Manuel L. Quezon had become President of the Commonwealth. It is also very significant that the Netherlands did not even send good wishes to the new state. After the Tydings-McDuffie Act, Dutch attitude plainly ignored the Philippines. There was no official information about the Commonwealth.

This “cold-shoulder” treatment was already evident on Quezon’s visit to Indonesia in 1934 on his way to Paris. The Dutch could not refuse as the request had come from the American government. But when the
American consul in Batavia arranged an audience with the governor-general, the latter received “mister” Quezon without enthusiasm. In 1939, the President of the Commonwealth wanted to embark on a grand
tour of Southeast Asia which would include the Netherlands Indies, but there was some pressure from the Dutch on the State Department to make him abandon his plan.

On the other hand, Indonesian nationalist circles welcomed the political changes in the Philippines with great interest, and Quezon’s visit was awaited with great expectations. He was, however, very prudent during this visit and limited his public talks to compliments and generalities only. But personal contacts were established. And when the Commonwealth was officially established, the occasion gave rise to a grand meeting of eleven political organizations at the initiative of M.H. Thamrin, leader of the Nationale Fractie in the People’s Council. Soekardjo Wirjopranoto, Volksraad member, was sent to Manila by the
PPPI (Perhimpunan Pelajar-Pelajar Indonesia, Association of Indonesian Students) to convey the good wishes of the conference. Many Indonesian newspapers published articles about “the great step towards independence of the Philippines,” and Thamrin himself made an obvious comparison in the Volksraad that after barely 40 years of American rule in the Philippines, they soon will have full independence, whereas Indonesians after three hundred years of Dutch colonization were still unfree. 

Thus developments in the Philippines had given hope to the ko-group (i.e., those who chose to cooperate with the government) of the nationalist movement that the cherished dream of Indonesian
independence, too, could be achieved through legislative channels. However, the rejection of the Soetardjo Petition in the People’s Council after more than two years of stalling, was a turning point. Thamrin who had voted for the petition, would then look for other alternatives which made him suspect (of secretly working with the Japanese) and resulted in his arrest in January 1941. He died soon afterwards and his death was commemorated in the Philippine Assembly by Maximo Kalaw who remembered him, as many of his colleagues did, as “the Indonesian Quezon.”

Adrian B. Lapian
Author: Adrian B. Lapian
(1929-2011) Indonesian historian.

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