State and Society in the Philippines (Excerpt)

From State and Society in the Philippines, by Patricio N. Abinales, Donna J. Amoroso, Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

The Filipino Colonial State, 1902-1946 

American officials watched with “discomfort… the erosion of democratic institutions and processes, the neglect of festering social problems and the waste of opportunities to prepare the new Philippine Republic for meaningful economic independence.” But they supported Quezon because they saw no alternative. Fundamentally, the officials “were determined to avoid any confrontation with Quezon that might precipitate the overt reassertion of American sovereignty in the colony” -an action that was untenable in part because of past failure to dominate Philippine politics and in part because the future was set. The U.S. Congress had already decided to grant Philippine independence.

Historian Alfred W. McCoy suggests that the lineage of dictatorship in the Philippines- see chapter 8 on the tenure of President Ferdinand Marcos -can be traced to the Commonwealth period and the presidency of Manuel Quezon. McCoy provides ample evidence for this thesis, citing the many times Quezon wielded dictatorial powers to push his political and economic agenda, remunerate his cronies, and crush his enemies. Quezon himself offers confirmation with remarks like the following (which reveal one or two other traits as well):

To tell the truth, gentlemen, I should like to continue being President of the Philippines if I were sure I would live 100 years. Have you ever known anyone who had voluntarily renounced power unless it was for a lady that, in his opinion was more important than power itself, or because of the threatening attitude of the people? Everybody likes power. It is the greatest urge of human nature. I like to exercise power.

Yet this was more than simple kleptocracy and power grabbing. Quezon was indeed an autocrat, but he stood apart from his peers, including Osmeña, in seeing himself as a leader of what historian Peter Stanley calls a “nation in the making.” He certainly coveted political power for his own ends, but also wanted Filipinos to see the office as their presidency, encouraging provincial audiences to see him differently than his American predecessors: “I’m a Filipino, so tell me the truth. 62 He personalized both the office and the nation. In exile during World War II, dying of tuberculosis in an upstate New York hospital and realizing that he would never return to the Philippines, he indulged a peculiar fantasy: “Look at that man,” he indignantly referred to his own reflection in the mirror. “Why did God give him such a body when I am here struggling for my life? I am Manuel L. Quezon – I am the Filipino people-I am the Philippines.”

Such “megalomania was not unique. The habit of autocrats identifying themselves with their country was quite pervasive at the time. 

Patricio Abinales
Author: Patricio Abinales

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.