Commonwealth Day

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Today used to be celebrated as Commonwealth Day from 1935 to 1946 (during the Japanese Occupation, Commonwealth Day was celebrated in secret and people caught observing it could be shot). President Quirino proclaimed November 15 as Philippine-American Friendship Day, which it remained until the administration of Ferdinand Marcos (from 1946 to Macapagal, July 4 was Independence Day, and June 12, Flag Day. After Macapagal, June 12 was Flag Day, and July 4 was Republic Day. Fidel V. Ramos sensibly restored July 4 as Republic Day on the 50th anniversary of independence in 1996.

Thus today, November 15 is the 70th anniversary of the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Reproduced below is the feature article on the inauguration, which came out in Time Magazine in its November 25, 1935 issue.

National Affairs:

Fireworks & Fear

November 25, 1935

Into the wide blue harbor of Manila last week slid the U. S. destroyer Peary. Aboard her were 52 survivors of the wrecked British freighter Silverhazel which, bound out of San Francisco for Singapore and Bombay, had gone down with a loss of four lives in San Bernardino Strait, 350 mi. southwest of the Philippine capital.
A great collection of more fortunate and more distinguished travelers had been pouring into Manila for days to be on hand for an historic happening. Chief among the visitors was George Henry Dern of Salt Lake City, Utah. As Secretary of War, he was head of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, which had supervised Philippine affairs during the 37 years they had been under U. S. dominion. Now George Dern was in Manila to read a proclamation which Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just signed on the other side of the world in Washington. The proclamation briefly certified the election on Sept. 17 of officers of the new Philippine Commonwealth, announced the succession of the new regime.
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Chief ceremony of the Philippines’ transformation from territorial to commonwealth status was the inauguration of small, brown Manuel Luis Quezon to be the Philippine Commonwealth’s first President. Most of the 15,000 official guests on hand to watch President Quezon swear his oath were influential brown-skinned fellow-countrymen in white suits and straw hats. But the guests whom President Quezon was happiest to see were the white-skinned envoys of the liberating Republic: Secretary Dern, Vice President John Nance Garner, 17 U. S. Senators, 26 U. S. Representatives, 34 U. S. newspapermen, to the last of whom Manuel Quezon declared: “We will be ever grateful for the part the free press has played in the cause of independence.”

Night before the inaugural, the 400-year-old city had echoed with jubilant whistles, bells, fireworks. For sheer noise, the celebration far surpassed similar demonstrations in March 1934 when President Roosevelt signed H. R. 8573 to free the Islands; or in March 1935 when he squiggled his approval on the work of the Philippine constitutional convention. But for all the merrymaking, an air of uneasiness and tension was marked by correspondents. “Doubts and forebodings” were noted among the attending masses by the New York Times’s representative. The Herald Tribune’s informant caught “a grim note of realism.” It became known that 2,000 official admission tickets to the inaugural had mysteriously disappeared. The Philippine constabulary strongly suspected they had been filched by Sakdalistas, proletarian radicals who staged a bloody uprising few weeks before the Filipino people went to the polls last May to approve the new Constitution. Now the Sakdalistas were plotting heaven knew what mischief in the Commonwealth’s first hour. Taking no chances, the constabulary and a detachment of U. S. troops drew up in a hollow square which kept nonofficial spectators a full 60 yd. from President Quezon as he was sworn in on the steps of the neoclassic Legislative Building.

In this tense atmosphere, the George Washington of the Philippines spoke, to 250,000 of his countrymen massed around, the words which unborn generations of Filipino schoolchildren will presumably have to memorize:

“No one need have any misgivings as to the attitude of the Government toward lawless individuals or subversive movements. They shall be dealt with firmly. Sufficient armed forces will be maintained at all times to quell and suppress any rebellion against authority of this Government or of the sovereignty of the United States. There can be no progress except under the auspices of peace. . . .

“I appeal, therefore, to every Filipino to give the Government loyal support so that tranquillity may reign supreme in our beloved land. Widespread public disorder and lawlessness may cause the downfall of constitutional government and lead to American intervention. . . .

“Even after independence, if we prove ourselves incapable of the protection of life, liberty and property of nationals and foreigners, we shall be exposed to the danger of intervention of foreign powers. . . .

“The Government draws its breath of life from its finances, and it must balance income and expenditures if it expects to survive. It is my duty to see that the Government of the Commonwealth lives within its means and stands foursquare on a well-balanced budget. . . . We are among the least-taxed people in the world, and therefore when necessity arises we should be willing to accept the burden of increased taxation. … I shan’t fail you.”

Hard Game.

The occasion might have excused considerably more forensic embroidery, but Manuel Quezon had no illusions about the tasks ahead of him. As he turned from the crowd, walked back through the Legislative Building, the Herald Tribune man thought he “looked like a football player after a hard game.”

President Quezon knows well what most Filipinos have yet to discover: that the U. S., in granting independence, is far from purely benevolent. Long ago the Philippines outdealt the New Deal in the matter of socialized industry. The Islands’ 72,000 sq. mi. of timber are 99% owned by the Government, forested by license. The rich iron mines of Mindanao (second biggest island, after Luzon) are a Government reservation. It owns and works the coal deposits of Batan Island. It has taken over the Philippine Railroad. But to private enterprise is left the all-important agricultural industry, which since 1909 has enjoyed practically free trade with the continental U. S. and whose exported produce in 1933 was worth $96,000,000.

A few Congressional sentimentalists have, for the past 37 years, supported the idea of independence for the Philippines. With the recent Hard Times, the issue became realistic. Cotton Congressmen were told by their constituents that Philippine coconut oil was a competitor with their cottonseed oil. Manila hemp seemed to be hurting U. S. cordage producers. But the big importation from the Philippines is sugar from sugar cane, and that brought anguished wails from Louisiana sugarmen, howls of positive pain from sugar-beet growers of Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Michigan. With independence goes a U. S. duty on Philippine sugar which, unless it is tempered by U. S. Tariff Commission experts now probing the situation in Manila, may prove the Islands’ agricultural ruin.

Dollars & Cents.

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President Quezon could identify his countrymen as among “the least-taxed people in the world” because Uncle Sam has turned back to the Islands excise taxes and customs duties collected in the U. S. on Philippine products. It takes $35,000,000 to run the Philippines for a year. Last year into the Islands’ Treasury poured $17,000,000 from excise tax collections made in the U. S. on Philippine coconut oil. On top of that, Congress has authorized a gift of $23,000,000 because the Philippines, reasoned U. S. Congressmen, were entitled to a compensation for the devaluation of the dollar.

In terms of Federal dollars and cents, therefore, the Philippine Territory in its last year had become a heavy liability even measured by the New Deal’s generous standards. But the New Deal has hopes of realizing politically on its Philippine investment. In the closing hours of his term as Governor General, red-headed Frank Murphy, onetime Democratic Mayor of Detroit, did not let the fact go unnoticed that he was turning over a Government which was financially impeccable. On the night before Manuel Quezon’s inaugural, in a suite at the Manila Elk’s Club Frank Murphy took oath as the first ‘ U. S. High Commissioner to the Philippine Commonwealth. With Manuel Quezon established in the ancient governing seat at Manila, Malacanan Palace, High Commissioner Murphy will depart for the former Governor General’s summer home at mountainous Baguio, 160 mi. from the capital. Next year, if all goes as planned, Frank Murphy will return to Detroit, run for Governor of Michigan against the Republican incumbent on the strength of having given the Philippines a BALANCED BUDGET.


The Army has long advocated Reason No. 3 for turning the Philippines loose: they are impossible to defend. The Philippine Archipelago is a geographical Milky Way. It contains 7,083 islands, of which only 2,441 have names, only 462 have an area of more than one square mile. They are strung out north and south for 1,152 mi., so that the northermost lies only 65 mi. from Japanese Formosa, the southermost only 30 mi. from British North Borneo. The politically turbulent Chinese coast is less than 500 mi. away from northern Luzon. The Philippines are thus the prime buffer in Pacific diplomacy.

Characteristically, when President Quezon spoke last week of his fears about “intervention of foreign powers,” dope-sters who suffer from chronic Japanese Jitters at once flashed apprehensive eyes at Tokyo. Almost the first remark that Japanese Ambassador Saito made when he arrived in the U. S. to take up his duties at Washington was a contemptuous denial that Japan wanted such an “expensive” country. But Japan has many significant interests in the Philippines. Japan is the Philippines’ biggest customer for lumber and low-grade help. Japanese colonists, prohibited by law from leasing land, have nevertheless obtained through native wives a large foothold on the Island of Davao. Japanese control the entire Philippine fishing industry and are steadily replacing Chinese as the Archipelago’s leading retail merchants.

It was to Tokyo that Benigno Ramos, who roused the malcontent, insurgent Sakdalistas, fled last year. There he has been living under the protection of the potent Seiyukai Party.

Somewhat pointedly, the U. S. State Department discouraged attendance at the Quezon inaugural of “foreign delegations,” on the ground that the Philippines were not yet autonomous. But the Tokyo Yomiuri last week felicitated the Commonwealth “especially because the Philippines can easily be reached by air from Japan and the prospects of Japanese-Philippine trade are bright.”

Because the Islands’ 12,500 mi. coastline is easily “reachable” by* every power in Asia, the U. S. Army for years wanted to cast the Islands off. But few Army men were surprised when General Douglas MacArthur, ending a long and brilliant term as U. S. Chief of Staff, packed his elegant duffel and sailed to Manila as the Commonwealth’s Military Adviser (TIME, Sept. 30). General Mac Arthur’s mission is to set up in the next two years a military establishment, costing 16,000,000 pesos ($8,000,000) and enrolling 19,000 men, which will try to keep the Philippine Republic independent after the Stars-&- Stripes are hauled down July 4, 1946.

Don Manuel.

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Of the Filipinos as a people, the Encyclopedia Britannica observes: “In social contact they are a charming, idealistic race. Their evolution is probably toward a homogeneous people, but the racial cleavages are very apparent and sometimes stand in the way of united and lasting action. Their political development, which has been manipulated by clever politicians, has outstripped their other attainments.”

No cleverer politician ever mounted a rostrum than the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth. Most Mestizos (of mixed blood) are constitutionally gifted with political “it.” But in the past 30 years Manuel Quezon has given his countrymen an exhibition of straddling, transference and political gymnastics which, if performed on horseback, would make him the wonder of the equestrian world.

Manuel Quezon was a law student at Santo Tomas University in Manila (oldest under the U. S. flag) when handsome young Emilio Aguinaldo, tired of the evasion of U. S. officials who, he thought, should recognize him as President of the Philippine Provisional Republic, started a revolt to run the none too numerous U. S. expeditionary force out of the Islands. Since the U. S. authorities were chary of all Filipinos at that time, and hence offering no jobs in the Island Government to brown men, Manuel Quezon went into the bush for a while as a major on Aguinaldo’s staff. It took two years, many tons of rifle ammunition and the caginess of General Frederick Funston to capture and subdue Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901. As early as 1903, his ex-aide, Quezon, was working hand-in-glove with the conquering Yanquis as prosecutor for Tabayas and Mindoro Provinces. He has been drawing a government paycheck ever since.

Successively a provincial governor and Territorial Assemblyman, in 1909 Manuel Quezon made his first trip to Washington as Resident Commissioner. He had no vote in Congress, but he had a voice. That voice soon reached William Atkinson Jones of Warsaw, Va. Representative Jones had been to Manila with the first great Congressional junket in 1905, led by Secretary of War Taft. About the only tangible result of that trip was the betrothal of Representative Nicholas Longworth and Alice Roosevelt. But eight years later, the Democrats took over in Washington and Mr. Jones became Chairman of the House Insular Affairs Committee. With Manuel Quezon at his elbow. Chairman Jones wrote the act which gave the Islands a bicameral Legislature, a Cabinet of six, of which five had to be Filipinos, and promised to set them free at the earliest possible moment. That moment had to wait until the Democrats ruled Washington again.

In the intervening 19 years Manuel Quezon spent most of his time rocking his political weight back and forth between two positions: whether to demand independence at once or take it when the U. S. was ready to give it. He electioneered alternately on this pair of platforms, depending on the mood of the voters. That Manuel Quezon always picked the right side is testified by the fact that he was the one and only President of the Philippine Senate.

During these busy political years, Manuel Quezon gained a wife, four children, a valuable political ally in the person of Sergio Osmena (now Vice President of the Commonwealth), the Grand Mastery of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the Philippine Islands, the presidency of the Nationalista Consolidado Party which runs the Philippines almost as Tammany used to run New York City, the presidency of Manila Railroad Co. and Manila Hotel, a trusteeship in the University of the Philippines and a membership in the Wack Wack Golf Club. He has also earned the esteem of thousands of Nationalist Filipinos who address him respectfully as “Don Manuel” and hail him as the Father of His Country.

Don Manuel once expressed his own Nationalist philosophy (1921) as follows: “We [Filipinos] are like, let us say, a young married couple starting out in life. A mother-in-law is helping run their establishment. She may be a perfectly admirable woman, kind, generous, affectionate, wise and the best cook on earth, but the young household does not want her. . . . A block down the street, or across the river, the household thinks of her with profound affection and regard . . . but it does not want her forever stirring the pot and dominating the bill of fare.”

19 Guns.

The British, who claim to know most about bossing “natives,” lifted a disapproving eyebrow when it became known that the U. S. was going to let the Filipinos keep house independently. White prestige in the Orient would be definitely lowered when a brown man replaced a white man in Malacanan Palace. One pre-inaugural problem was whether brown Manuel Quezon was to get a 21-gun salute to white Frank Murphy’s 19, ultimately solved by giving them both 19.


U. S. critics of the Islands’ release complain that all Commonwealth status did was to give the Filipinos the governing power and the U. S. the worries. Actually, the sections of H. R. 8573 which define the rights of both States is extremely cautious about giving the Commonwealth any authority which might be hazardous to U. S. interests. All monetary laws, all loans from foreign countries, all legislation dealing with external trade and immigration are subject to the U. S. President’s approval. Until final independence ten years hence, the final court of Philippine appeal is still the U. S. Supreme Court. The Commonwealth President, who serves for six years, is obliged to make an annual report to the U. S. President and Congress. The official language remains English and U. S. citizens are guaranteed the same property rights as those of Filipinos. Final, strongest string kept on the Islands is that, by proclamation, the U. S. President may at any time “exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of the government of the Commonwealth.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

18 thoughts on “Commonwealth Day

  1. Thank you MLQ3
    A new lesson everyday…
    I remember the part somewhere in the comments where you said US is paranoid of Philippine Agriulture….

    The info shared above made me understand why.

    I also remember one comment about the preamble of 35…shorter is better something like k.i.s.s (the simple accronym)… not remmebered entirely the comment though…

    Lastly about the strings attached…how come we still can’t find a way to cut that string to have us fly to the air as if that string is attached to a baloon..Ay pag pinutol may tali pa din na maiiiwan …pero short or long basta ma disconnect sa kinatatalian makakalipad pa din..

  2. Some reinforcements oI really meditated on how this times article ansewred most of the comments that caught my attention.

    One as to the Philippines need a free trade agrement with the US and no the Philippines must deal with its nearer neighbors first……

    I also that I said that we have bilateral agreements even before sabi nanga ba I must have learned that somewhere in araling panlipunan nung grade 3-6 eh……

    Latly (as If) ay mamaya na minemental block ako eh…

    ay tama na nga mamaya umabot hanggang comment 18 ito ….

    I don’t have the monopoly of opinions(reminder to self)

  3. FYI, excerpts from the Bell Trade Act effectively continuing the economic and trade policy of the Philippine Commonwealth under the U.S. under the guise of a Republican government. MLQ was dead and President Roxas signed. This function was taken over in 1963 by the IMF-W.B. Today these same provisions are being debated under the guise of economic liberalization policies. Now under the Washington Consensus.

    Provisions of the Bell Trade Act – 1946
    1) extend the free trade relation that existed between
    the two countries during the colonial period;
    2) the Philippines shall not control or regulate
    transactions which involve the use of dollars or
    foreign currency – such as for import, travel,
    remittances abrioad by foreign companies doing
    business in the philippines of their profits and
    capital – except upon prior approval of the president
    of the United States;
    3) amend the Philippine Constituion aso as to exempt
    U.S. citizens from the constituional provision
    limiting the right to exploit the nation’s natural
    resources and operate public utilities to Filipinos.
    (parity rights amendment)
    4) the Philippines shall not alter alter the
    peso-dollar rate of Php 2:$1 without the prior consent
    of the U.S. president.
    On protectionism:

  4. The more I read your stuff on MLQ and the Commonwealth, the more I understand now why those who succeeded him — notably Marcos and Arroyo — always tried to impress on everyone that they were/are Quezon’s true heirs. If you have more on MLQ, please post.

    Question: how did MLQ regard Leonard Wood exactly?

  5. The promise of Philippine agriculture has been dealt an almost fatal blow by a combination of neglect and abysmal choices of policy. However, IF there is enough political will and a long-term policy to put in the proper infrastructures and mechanisms, it could still recover and become the envisioned “engine of growth” that will propel the country into NIC-hood. But that is a big IF.

    To start with, we must be shed of our obsession with land ownership. Agrarian strife, fomented by the Communist movement, has distracted us from the more important aspect of agricultural productivity. Hence, we enacted an agrarian reform law that was doomed even before it could be implemented because the proper infrastructures and credit and market mechanisms were not in place. If farming could not be made viable, land ownership is just an empty promise. Unless, of course, the farm was situated near an urban development and could be sold for a quick profit, which is what agrarian reform is turning out to be all about. It is not about farming or productivity, but hitting the lottery.

    Having been the “Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the Philippine Islands”, I wonder how MLQ would react to the high visibility of the Church in politics?

  6. a de brux, karl, thank you very much!

    hvrds, i disagree. you have to go to the joint committee negotiations in 1937 to see the trade negotiations to fulfill the terms of tydings-mcduffie. free trade was negotiated until 1967. parity was never considered or suggested prior to the war. roxas took a gamble on parity after the war because of american conditions for rebuilding and war damages claims (unknown to mlq, the extensive destruction wasn’t foreseen). roxas lost the gamble because after parity was approved, american priorities changed and shifted to developing japan as a bulwark for projecting american power during the cold war. even the plan to move japanese heavy industry to the philippines didn’t push through as a result.

    jojo, have you read the profile written by fritz marquardt?

    carl, if we’d had land reform in macapagal’s time, thatmight have worked; after that, its enactment hit the middle class (i recall the widespread demoralization in the 1980s with schoolteachers, doctors, etc., who had saved up to buy 10 hectares, these were the ww2 generation, all of a sudden, they lost everything while the big haciendas remained untouched).

  7. Manolo, where can I find the Marquardt piece? One of the things that also puzzles me about the Commonwealth was that it was born amidst turbulence: the Great Depression’s impact was still being felt all over the world, the Sakdals had flexed their muscle in the areas surrounding Manila, so too the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. The were rumblings in Davao over the Japanese domination of the local economy,not to mention militarizing Japan. Also, I am sure, both Filipino and American leaders were aware of Stalin. The puzzle then was how did MLQ ride this turbulent era despite challenges from within his own party and government, but also from outside forces. Perhaps those inside the present regime can learn a thing or two on how to deal with the opposition and remain popular?

  8. I like how they say it was independence what a lot of hog wash.

    The americans and the forefathers of this country pulled that one over the peoples eyes..

    and as they say in this line

    With independence goes a U. S. duty on Philippine sugar which, unless it is tempered by U. S. Tariff Commission experts now probing the situation in Manila, may prove the Islands’ agricultural ruin.

    Yep they installed a catch here you go have “INDEPENDANCE” and we will destroy you and if you want to change anything else you have to ask us first..

    And they sure did it…

    The Encyclopedia Britannica got it right, still to this day…

    I see ABS and PCIJ are still spouting of that BABAO was above it all..

    Oh and to Karl I am not going to do Hari Kari.. to everyones displeasure..

  9. Small thing but anyway …

    As Time wrote “Most Mestizos (of mixed blood) are constitutionally gifted with political ‘it.'” ??

    Interesting but really being a mestizo has nothing to do with it. Perhaps interest in a particular subject (whether it be business or politics) is stronger in a particular group of people but as far as being “gifted” is concerned (whether on politics or otherwise), being of mixed or “pure blood” shouldn’t be of significance.

    Anyway, it’s really no matter. As far as the Philippines is concerned, we’re probably all mixed bloods by now so there’s really no value in differentiating a mestizo from a “pure blood”. We’re all Filipinos.

  10. Sleeping…
    Since you mentioned me I asked you to skip to the part and read what you said about great people becoming great having endured and overcae their problems..

    If that was not an encouragement to you I am telling you that it was supposed to be since you were in a very bad mood and beginning to affect some .

    So you are one who think we never really became independent.
    Well as just like the baloon analogy let us cut the string from the hand that holds the baloon …
    But the hand happened to have stretcheable hands I suppose…Ganyan talaga eh so let us just deal with it.

  11. No i think the country is now independent now back back then they made sure it was not real independence..

    If you still have to depend on them and have to make descisions as they tell you then it is a forced “Democracy”

    Take the example of New Zealand, It is part of the Commonwealth and to be part of the commonwealth it must agree to certian rules. But as far as the economy and other items it is not told what to do by Britian..
    Even the Commonwealth is not rulled by Britian or the Queen..
    The Queen is just a Figure Head, as required by India because they are a Republic but part of the Commonwealth.

    And India to the US’s disgust purchased weapons from the USSR during the Cold War. Which this country could never do as all other ties would be instantly cut..

  12. You are right sleeping with who.

    The British Commonwealth is just a club. As such, it has rules and regulations.

    If you like, their honorary president (for life) is the Queen but it is just that – a club formed by Britain and its former British colonies whose main purpose is based on economics (members have trading partnership privileges) and cultural exchanges.

    And it works marvelously.

  13. Manolo, New York University Press just published a new bio of Leonard Wood by one Jack McCallum. If you have relatives doon baka they can get you a copy. I’ll try to get one via the Japanese bureaucracy. Hoping that there is a chapter on his fights with MLQ.

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