The social ideas of Quezon and Ataturk (3)
AFTER THE capture of President Emilio Aguinaldo in Isabela in 1900, his military aide, Maj. Manuel L. Quezon, saw the futility of continuing the resistance to the American occupation army. In September of that year, he surrendered in Bataan. In his autobiography, “The Good Fight,” Quezon said of his surrender, “I wondered in my own mind, if the freedom which we lost by fighting America could not be won by cooperating with her.” From the ruins of the revolution, Quezon moved on to political struggle as a means to win Philippine independence.
The last foothold of the Spanish empire in Asia, its garrison inside the church of Baler, Quezon’s hometown, surrendered to the revolutionary army on June 2, 1899, after a siege of 337 days. That was the last victory of the revolutionary army.
After completing his law studies, Quezon at first became fiscal of Tayabas. Then he was elected councilor of Tayabas, moved on to be elected provincial governor, and won a seat in the first National Assembly in the first national election of 1907. That was the start of his rapid rise to power in the Senate culminating in his election as first president of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, making him the founding father of the embryonic Philippine Republic in 1946.
Quezon’s domination of Philippine politics with his autocratic exercise of power from 1935 to 1945, his charisma and volcanic temper and dynamic leadership have been amply written about in numerous biographies, but little is known about the social ideas that influenced his decisions and policies.
Quezon was a socialist by inclination, and a practicing apostle of the concept of a strong state. His autocratic tendencies and statist orientation did not conform to the principles of US-style democracy implanted by the American colonial administration in preparing the Philippines for self-government. His path to democracy paralleled closely the road taken by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the modern Turkish Republic which was declared on Oct. 29 1923.
Quezon presided over the establishment of the post-colonial Philippine state, taking off from the demise of the Spansh empire and a failed Filipino revolution. He had to mold the emerging state with his own ideas of an independent republic, not emulating the American model.
On the other hand, Ataturk established the Turkish Republic, after winning the Turks’ war of independence, following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, when Turkey sided with the losing side, the Central Powers. Realizing that the terms imposed by the victorious Allies on Turkey were “unbearable,” Ataturk, a hero in the Battle of Gallipoli, according to one historian, “understood that the Turkish disaster in the war required a rethinking of national strategy.” The rethinking led to the conclusion that “Turkey must give up its ideas of empire and confrontation with Russian, and become a national state in Asia Minor, instead of trying to be a regional empire.”
The republic retreated to its heartland in Anatolia in Asia Minor, and transferred its capital to Ankara from the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, Turkey’s bridge between Europe and Asia at the Bosporus.
Both Quezon and Atatrurk, as founders of modern states, in transition from the old order, looked at the West as models of modernization because of its advanced technology. There is no evidence that they considered it unpatriotic for their nation-states to foster close ties with the West as a means to build a strong state sited on strategic geographical crossroads. They both fought fiercely for the independence of their nation-states in their dealings with bigger colonial powers of the West.
Both Turkey and the Philippines lie on the paths of invasion and trade—Turkey at the Bosporus and the Philippines astride the Pacific Ocean and China Sea, the invasion path from Japan in World War II.
After the declaration of independence, Ataturk’s Turkish Republic made Turkey the first Muslim secular state in history. It abolished the office of the sultan, and the Ottoman Caliphate, and separated the church and state. Ataturk said, “The religion of Islam will be elevated if it will cease to be a political instrument, as it had been in the past.”
Ataturk established a single-party democracy, dominated by the Republican People’s Party, just as Quezon converted the Nacionalista Party into the dominant ruling party, virtually transforming the Commonwealth into a single-party state.
Ataturk undertook a series of reforms to “raise Turkey to the level of modern civilization.” According to one of his biographies, the reforms included: recognition of equal rights of men and women, reform of headgear and dress, adoption of international calendar, abolition of Canon Law, adoption of new Turkish alphabet, establishment of a mixed economy, and putting into effect five-year development plans.
Like Quezon, Ataturk loved to wear well-cut Western suits. “He was particular about his appearance and enjoyed dressing well,” one biographer wrote.
Quezon and Ataturk were influenced by the effects of the the Great Depression of the 1930s. Their statist economic policies were shaped by the impact of the Depression. Ataturk encouraged the Turks to wear modern European attire and hats. He banned the wearing of the fez, saying it was “a symbol of Oriental backwardness.”
(Note: This series consists of preliminary thoughts on a more extensive study tentatively titled, “Quezon: the Social Origins of Filipino Authoritarianism; a comparative study.” )