Parity’s unintended consequences (2)
In the case of the Philippines, things got worse. By Nov. 6, 1946, the Republicans crushed the Democrats and took control of both houses of Congress. Harry S. Truman’s political standing, however, had been weakening much earlier. The Rescission Act of 1946, which deprived Filipino soldiers and guerrillas of benefits on par with Americans, was a case in point. To his credit, Truman would keep trying to rectify the injustice committed by Congress, but the issue remains a sore spot to this day.
With its back to the wall, our country faced economic collapse or surrender on American terms. The government went to war against itself, securing a vote in Congress only after it had expelled radical representatives and allied senators to secure passage of the Parity Amendment.
On March 6, 1947 — five days before the plebiscite — Manuel Roxas appealed to the public to ratify the amendment, saying: “Yet we do not, in this case, propose to amend the Constitution permanently. We amend the Constitution for 28 years. After 28 years, this amendment will automatically become null and void. It will cease entirely to have force and effect. But if we find sooner than 28 years that we have made a mistake in this amendment, and that it is not working out to our best interests, we can cancel this amendment, on six months’ notice, or on five years’ notice. There is nothing irrevocable about it.”
This turned out to be true: The Laurel-Langley Agreement renegotiated many of the Bell Act’s terms in 1955, to expire in 1974. But Roxas did not live — and point out — to see this. Political will came to be written off as a perpetual national disgrace.
What were the unintended consequences of the Parity Amendment? Three were most consequential.
The first and most unnoticed was, it overturned the careful political design — and intent — of our legislature. In 1940, the Senate had been revived partly to offset what was already being foreseen as the inevitability of increased radical representation. It would serve both as an institution capable of asserting a national perspective in contrast to the purely local point of view of members of the lower house.
It was also intended to be a more conservative institution, meant as a delicate balancing act, a safety valve of sorts. The purge of both the House and the Senate in 1946 eliminated this need as it resulted in the near-total elimination of representation for radical forces for two generations, until the partylist gave a new opportunity for radicals to achieve at least a token representation in the legislature.
It is no coincidence that the Parity campaign was marked with a grenade thrown at Roxas in Plaza Miranda, inaugurating an era that would end with another grenade thrown in Plaza Miranda in 1971, marking the death throes of the Third Republic that Roxas inaugurated in 1946. The democratic space during that entire period had shrunk to the extent of a perpetual life-and-death struggle with every path to integration with the larger body politic closed off. We continue to feel the consequences of this to this day.
The second was the perpetuation of American business as an unhelpful influence in our political life. Anxiety over the expiration of the Parity — particularly in terms of property — contributed to American business’ support for the imposition of martial law in 1972. William Quasha had lost a case over being able to own his Forbes Park house even after the Parity expired; Marcos promised an accommodating approach to foreign capital, and foreign capital applauded martial law.
The third was the infantilization, in a sense, of our perspective of Philippine-American relations. What was a particularly ruthless response to a specific set of circumstances — the limbo in which American allies found themselves from 1945 to 1948, as America shrank back from promises and expectations set during the war — had been blurred with what followed: the expansion of the American military-industrial complex as it finally, fully, engaged in the Cold War. In repeatedly scratching at the scabs of this national humiliation, we were prevented from going beyond feeling sorry for ourselves, instead of learning about similar challenges under similar circumstances faced by other nations — or from fully appreciating that independent nationhood requires realpolitik.