Manuel L. Quezon: How he secured the independence law from the United States

Manuel L. Quezon: How he secured the independence law from the United States

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Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 19 August 2015


I write about Manuel L. Quezon (the president of the Philippine Commonwealth) for two reasons.

First, it is a good introduction to our political season as we commit to choose a new leader next year. Second, and more important, August 19 marks his birthday anniversary.

Manuel Quezon dominated our country’s politics from 1916 to the early 1940s. The biggest monument for a national hero that was ever constructed in the country is dedicated to him at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. The provinces of Quezon and Aurora are named after him and his wife.

Dominant politician of the American colonial era. Manuel Luis Quezon was born in Baler, Tayabas province (now Aurora) on August 19,1878. After serving in local elective positions in his province, he was elected in 1909 to the unicameral Philippine Assemby (later the House of Representatives in the bicameral legislature).

His political mettle would be further developed when he was sent to Washington D.C. as the Philippine resident commissioner. In that job, he helped contribute to the enactment in 1916 of the Jones Law, the basic law for Philippine autonomy government even as the government was run by an American governor-general.

Upon the creation of the Senate following the Jones Law, he ran for a seat, won and became the Senate President. Before that time, Sergio Osmena was the top Filipino legislator as Speaker of the Philippine Assembly.

The Senate President Quezon, who outranked the Speaker Osmena by protocol, was more assertive, flamboyant and articulate in the use of his powers. In this post therefore, he began to dominate the relations with the American Governor-General, who was the island’s chief executive.

How the Philippine independence law was secured. During the presidency (1929-1933) of Herbert Hoover, the weight of American domestic politics with respect to the question of Philippine independence became fluid and more favorable.

Democrats had always had a soft position for independence but the Republicans wanted to keep the Philippines as a colony for mercantilist and other reasons for American industry. The agricultural states were mostly Democratic. Republicans in those states and elsewhere were willing to cross party lines to vote with the pro-Philippine independence movement.

The Great Depression after the stock market fall of October 1929 accelerated the Philippine independence movement. Many agricultural states had become economically depressed.

Their support of Philippine independence was calculated partly to help ease these economic problems. Competition from imports of Philippine sugar, coconut oil, abaca, and other agricultural products would be weakened by independence.

The Philippine legislature sent a joint mission to lobby for the passage of the independence law. Sergio Osmena (then Senator) and Speaker Manuel A. Roxas (known for short then as the “Os-Rox mission”) went to Washington to help work for its enactment. Sixteen years of self-government under the Jones Law kept the demand for independence burning with fervour.

Manuel Quezon would have wanted to lead the mission, but his state of health at the time (tuberculosis) kept him home. As leader of the party in power (Nacionalista party), he could give directions to the mission.

Thus, passing the independence law became a strong possibility in the second half of the Hoover presidency. The Democrats had gained supremacy in the lower house and the US Senate was practically split. But crossover votes from Republicans on the Philippine independence issue was very likely.

The Hare-Hawes-Cutting bill therefore passed the legislature and, as quickly, President Hoover vetoed it. However, the Congress had enough votes to over-ride the veto overwhelmingly on Jan. 17, 1933. Earlier, Quezon tried to call the mission home for consultations but this became impractical given the speed of the legislative work.

Quezon then moved to declare that the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law on Philippine independence would be opposed on grounds that some provisions were inconsistent with independence. He was ready to oppose its approval by the Philippines.

Quezon thus undermined the accomplishments of Osmena and Roxas. This caused a split within the the ruling party. Osmena and Roxas wanted the government to approve the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law to make it effective as law. Otherwise, it simply expired.

Quezon’s brinksmanship pays off. Quezon opposed the bill on two grounds. First, he felt he could get a better law from the US Congress, especially since a new Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, could be accommodating. He had many points of criticisms on the provisions of the law.

The second reason was selfish: if it became the country’s independence law, Osmena and Roxas would triumph and surely eclipse him in the eyes of the nation. This was political disaster for him.

In the next round, he out-flanked those who wanted the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law approved through legislative maneuvers (the plan to approve by plebiscite was given up in favour of legislative action) and through the power of his persuasion and personality during the debates.  Thus, the Philippines disapproved the first independence law.

To get a new law on independence passed, he went to the US armed with the new mandate for a different independence law. This was risky. There were many American officials who had wanted to cold-shoulder his overtures.

But President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave him an audience. Days later and after complying with Roosevelt’s request for a Philippine memorandum on the independence law, the new American president took him up point by point and was receptive.

Roosevelt agreed with Quezon that he would remove the retention of military bases in the new law and that the question of two naval bases would be settled on mutually agreeable terms. On other issues, he was willing to accommodate later.

In his message to Congress on March 2, 1934 certifying for passage the new independence bill, President Roosevelt specified: “I do not believe that other provisions of the original law need be changed at this time. Where imperfections or inequalities exist I am confident that they can be corrected after proper hearing and in fairness to both peoples.”

The US Congress worked with speed, suspending rules of procedure to expedite passage of the Tydings-McDuffie law. The text was essentially the earlier Hare-Hawes-Cutting bill, except for the changed provisions on military bases.

The Tydings-McDuffie law, Public Law 127, 73rd Congress, was signed by President Roosevelt on March 24, 1934, with Manuel Quezon and the Philippine delegation also gracing the important occasion.


Gerardo Sicat
Author: Gerardo Sicat

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