The Philippines (Excerpt)

From “Philippines,” by Shirley Jenkins, in The State of Asia: A Contemporary Survey, Lawrence K. Rosinger, editor; Taylor & Francis, 2023

The extent to which Philippine affairs were shaped by outside factors can be seen The in the events leading to the establishment of the sovereign Republic. American motives in the debate on Philippine independence in the early thirties were mixed. Strong anticolonial as well as isolationist feelings had been expressed in the United States from the very beginning of the Philippine conquest. But the greatest pressure for severing the tie with the Islands came from American farm groups (including dairy producers and firms with interests in Cuban and Puerto Rican sugar), which felt that protection of American products through quotas and tariffs on Philippine exports would support prices in this country. The depression in the United States resulted in widespread unemployment, and American labor organizations, in addition to holding no brief for territorial expansion, also desired to protect their members from the competition they feared would be caused by the further unrestricted entry of low-cost “foreign labor.”

The Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, passed by Congress in January 1933, provided for Philippine independence, but it had a stormy political reception that led to its disavowal by both American and Filipino leaders. In the United States the measure was vetoed by President Hoover and repassed by Congress over the veto. In the Philippines Manuel Quezon raised strong objections to the Act, particularly to the provision for retention of American military and naval bases in the islands. The Act became a cause of political dissension, with Quezon on one side and Manuel Roxas and Sergio Osmena, who had worked for passage of the legislation, on the other. The Philippine legislature, however, supported Quezon, and the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act was rejected. Subsequently Quezon headed a mission to the United States, where he encouraged passage of the Tyings-McDuffie Act, known as the Philippine Independence Act of 1934. This measure closely resembled the earlier legislation, except that the new Act provided for withdrawal of American military establishments after sovereignty had been achieved. It was accepted by Quezon partly because it appeared to be the best bargain that could be driven and partly because of the promise implicit in the message of the newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Congress on March 2, 1934. Roosevelt said of the Tydings- McDuffie Act:

Where imperfections or inequalities exist, I am confident that they can be corrected after proper hearing and in fairness to both peoples.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act defined the economic relations between the United States and the Philippine Islands for the duration of American sovereignty, and also prescribed certain interim steps on the way to full independence for the Philippines. Free trade was to continue during 1935-40, but the quantities of products which were duty-free were restricted. Philippine exports to the United States in excess of 850,000 long tons of sugar, 200,000 tons of coconut oil, and three million pounds of cordage annually were to be subject to full duties. United States products entering the Philippines, on the other hand, were all to be duty-free. During 1941-6 Philippine products under preferential treatment were to be subject to an export tax starting at five per cent and increasing by five per cent annually until a level of twenty-five per cent was reached in 1946. After independence, which was to be achieved on July 4, 1946, full United States tariffs were to be paid. In the meantime tariff revenues before independence could be used to liquidate the bonded indebtedness of the Commonwealth.

These quota arrangements were later altered in other legislation. The major revision was the substitution of annually declining duty-free quotas in place of annually rising Philippine export taxes for coconut oil, cigars, pearl buttons, and certain tobacco products for the 1941-6 period. However, the main content of the Independence Act remained unchanged.

To most Filipinos the political provisions of the legislation were of more immediate concern than the long-range economic arrangements. The Act inaugurated a “Commonwealth” period for the Islands’ government, and provided for the election of Filipino delegates to a Constitutional Convention that would draft a basic law for the future Republic. The resulting constitution, which was closely modeled on that of the United States, was approved by President Roosevelt and ratified by the Philippine electorate in 1935. This began the direct political transition from colony to sovereign state.

Originally the Philippine constitution established a unicameral legislature and six-year terms for both president and vice-president. In 1940, however, it was amended to provide for a bicameral legislature and four-year terms for the chief executives. The division of power and the legislative set-up of the Philippine government resembles that of the United States, except that there is a centralized rather than a federal form of government.

The President holds executive power, including various veto powers, control of the budget, and supervision over local government. Legislative authority is vested in a Congress, chosen by popular vote. The Congress consists of a Senate of twenty-four members elected at large for six-year terms and a House of Representatives composed of not more than 120 members, elected according to districts in the provinces. Judicial power is held by the supreme court and by lower courts. Included in the constitution is a Bill of Rights, providing for freedom of religion, speech, press, and other rights. At the time of adoption of the constitution, suffrage was exercised by literate male citizens of the Philippines who were twenty-one years of age or over. A plebiscite was to be held among the women to determine their interest in voting, and the women of the Philippines enfranchised themselves by an overwelming majority. Voting, for both men and women, is limited to nationals who can read and write. This provision severely restricts the franchise, since only about half the adult population is literate.

By the mid-1930’s the Commonwealth of the Philippines had inaugurated its constitution and established its governmental apparatus. From the time of the first Philippine Assembly in 1907 decisions on domestic affairs under Filipino control were dominated by the Nacionalista party (Partido Nacionalista), whose influence also extended to all provincial and municipal bodies. Issues raised in the discussion of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act in 1933 had split the party into the Pros, led by Osmena and Roxas, and the Antis, the dominant group under Quezon. But the opponents were soon reconciled, and in 1937 a coalition meeting resulted in a fusion of the two wings. Once again the Philippines had one-party Nacionalista rule.

Quezon’s influence was felt in every area of Philippine politics, and was exerted not only through the organs of the central government and the local officials, but also through the strongly entrenched party apparatus and the party’s caucus sessions. In the elections of 1938 Nacionalistas won in every one of the ninety-eight Assembly constituencies; and only five of the successful Nacionalista candidates ran in opposition to official party nominees. By 1940 minority groups had made some headway, one of the major gains being in Pampanga (Central Luzon), where the Socialist party, led by Pedro Abad Santos, elected mayors in eight of the twenty-one towns of the province. In November 1941 the power of the Nacionalista party was again shown with the re-election of Quezon as president, Osmena as vice-president, and an all-Nacionalista senate of twenty-four members, with ninety-five out of ninety-eight seats in the lower house going to Nacionalistas. Of the three million registered voters in the Philippines, however, only 1,700,000 went to the polls.

A good part of the strength of the Nacionalista party had come from its emphasis on Philippine independence, and the inauguration of the Commonwealth government in 1935 was regarded as a halfway mark on the road to sovereignty. But Filipino leaders, particularly President Quezon, were also aware of the need to develop the economy of the Philippines as a sound foundation for future independence. This was not an easy task, since the Philippines was predominantly an agricultural country producing raw materials for the American market. In 1939 agricultural products accounted for about four fifths of total Philippine exports, but it seemed inevitable that when the free trade advantage diminished under the Independence Act, the American market for Philippine exports would shrink. On the other hand, the Philippine dependence on imported manufactured goods would decrease only if the country became more self-sufficient and added to its industrial capacity. Industrial production accounted only for about 14.5 per cent of Philippine national income in 1939, and the existing modern plant was confined mainly to the processing of raw materials or to other operations related to the major export commodities.

Author: Shirley Jenkins
(1919-1991) Founding director of the Center for the Study of Social Work Practice.

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