The Good Fight, by Manuel L. Quezon



(Note: The following chapter has been prepared by former Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison, who was adviser to the late President Quezon. At President Quezon’s request Mr. Harrison kept careful notes of the former’s expressed views on the subjects involved in this chapter.)

EXECUTIVE LIFE was a great change for me after more than twenty-five years of continuous service as a legislator. For the first six months of my presidency I kept intact the Cabinet which I inherited from Governor-General Murphy, I knew them all intimately and had for years been working with them on the Council of State.

I was determined to give the Philippines the finest government they had ever had. I had one great advantage over my American predecessors as Chief Executive: I really understood my own people. In addressing audiences in the provinces I kept telling them: “Now, I am not an American Governor-General –I’m a Filipino, so tell me the truth.” I knew all about the racketeers in the service and determined to get rid of them. From the very beginning the plain people responded heartily to my appeals, for was I not their leader? I myself was one of them. I had started life as a poor village boy and had never accumulated any fortune.

On the other hand, I was somewhat oppressed at first by the new duties as an executive. For the past thirty years I had been mostly in legislative life, and I hated to be tied down to executive office hours and other restrictions. I had made a great many speeches in the Senate and now I was going in for action — not talk. From the point of view of the Executive chair I began to see more clearly the difficulties of putting into effect some of the measures I had championed so ardently in the Senate. Nevertheless, I was determined with all my heart and strength in the three years’ time I should have a model government in the Philippines.

The first matter of great importance before us was, of course, the creation of the Philippine Army. How deeply I regretted that the Philippine National Guard which we had organized in 1917-1918 to help the United States during the war had been abolished. In that, we had already had the nucleus for an army, including the rudiments of an Air Corps. But now we had to start again from scratch. This was the subject of my first message to the National Assembly, and the bill was signed and became a law on December 21, 1935. Later, the first general officers appointed were Paulino Santos as Chief of Staff and Generals Reyes, Basilio Valdes, and Vicente Lim. Recruiting for the new army was soon is full swing.

In the provinces around Manila public order was, at that time, in a somewhat unsatisfactory condition. General Aguinaldo, who had been an unsuccessful candidate against me for the presidency, was now a source of some uneasiness to the American Army officers in their garrison. But I thought I knew Aguinaldo better than they did. In the course of a few months his followers had entirely quieted down.

Banditry in the mountains at the other end of Laguna de Bay was still active and the Sakdalistas in the near-by provinces were still restless. I seized both of these problems quickly and with great vigor and soon settled them to the general satisfaction and without further bloodshed. This was possible because I was a Filipino and understood the psychology of those people and how best to handle them.

The truth was that when I took over the Executive power there was still an economic depression in the provinces — as, for that matter, there had been in the United States. Wages in near-by regions had fallen to sixty centavos a day and in the Ilocos regions to the north to even forty centavos. Of course, the people were restless. Eventually, I secured from the Assembly a minimum wage law fixing the rate at not less than one peso a day in the country districts and one peso twenty-five in the municipalities. The disquiet in the provinces had been chiefly on the part of the farm laborers, and it must be remembered that the Philippines are still mainly an agrarian country. The grievances of the farm laborers were due not only to the miserable pittance they were receiving as a money wage, but also to the large landholdings
created in much earlier times which were so managed that those who had cleared the land and worked their small fields could get no title to their lands. Many of the largest haciendas were still owned by church corporations as in the stories of Rizal. The remedy proposed and partly carried out by Mr. Taft, known as the Friar Land Purchases, had not worked out as intended. The lands thus purchased by the Philippine Government and meant to be sold to the tenants seldom got into the ownership of those who had worked them and lived on them. Besides, this was a method which proved extremely expensive to the Government. I preferred and advocated the system which had been applied to settle the land troubles in Ireland by Mr. Gladstone, known as the “three Fs”: fixed rental, fixity of tenure, and freedom to
convey, with land commissioners to administer the law. The Philippine Government was still struggling with this question so fraught with danger for the future.

In another reform I made great progress. This was in wiping out the tribal particularism which had existed in the Philippines for so many centuries. In frequent visits to the provinces, especially those far distant from Manila, I addressed large audiences and rallied them to the knowledge that we were all, first and foremost, Filipinos, and that at least they had their own government.

In the southern provinces, the most important question of all was the future of Mindanao, our second largest island, which for ages past and until recently had been under the control of the Moros. They had never been subdued by the Spanish and were never disarmed by them. Even up to the time of my childhood, they used to raid the northern islands for slaves and plunder. But the cry, “Hay Moros en la costa” (“There are Moros on the coast”), has not been heard in the rest of the Philippine Islands for now at least a half century.

The American Army officers used alternately to fight the Moros and then to “baby” them. The Moros are very artful and seldom agreed to any proposition made to them on the part of the Government except with feigned reluctance, and only in a manner calculated to put the Executive under an obligation. I felt that this method on their part was mostly bluff, and I now addressed them on various occasions with straight-from-the-shoulder declarations. This new method of handling them seemed to work excellently. The Moros are good farmers and fishermen, but theirs has been a dark and bloody chapter of history, and we were glad to see them at length gradually setting into modern ways.

Aside, however, from the matter of public order, there existed an international aspect of the Mindanao question, of profound importance to the Filipino nation. Unless we fully opened up, protected and settled, and thus made use of this great, rich, only partly developed island, some other nation might some day try to move in and make it their own. For the past twenty years, continued and successful efforts to colonize Mindanao from the north have been undertaken. The modern Filipino is not afraid of his kinsmen, the Moros. Settlers from the north in great numbers have poured into the rich valley of the Cotabato. I asked General Paulino Santos to take charge of the new colony at Coronadal near Davao, which he did with conspicuous success. Secretary Rafael Alunan in the Cabinet was given supervision over all colonization affairs. Many members of the Assembly accompanied me on the S.S. Negros down to Davao to see the new enterprise and became very enthusiastic over the prospects. I felt very strongly that every man who could own his own land would be contented and never became a prey to the teachings of Communism. But these colonizations were very expensive for the Government and, at best, only partly met the issue. I was convinced that transportation and access were the key to full solution of this problem, so during my administration I pushed the opening of modern roads across Mindanao, and Filipinos from the north took advantage of these opportunities. The Government supplied 60 per cent of the necessary capital for the subsidizing of new and modern steamers plying to the Visayas and Mindanao from Manila. I advocated the building of a railway, to be run by electric power from the magnificent Cristina Falls in Lanao, across the island, with feeder highways at selected points.

Another settlement for which one hundred thousand hectares of land was set aside was opened in the province of Isabela. The Ilocanos, who had requested the opening of this new settlement began to settle here in great numbers, taking advantage of these immensely rich lands in Isabela.

Duringthe firstyearof my administration I was continuously busy with the reorganization of the bureaus of government, cutting down and consolidating the overlapping offices which encrusted them and which had gradually grown up and deranged the administration by their eager competition with one another.

Of great importance, in my opinion, was the selection of judges to fill vacancies and to sit upon the new Court of Appeals. I was determined to make no unfit appointments and even to drop those judges who had proved themselves unworthy in the past. Favoritism was to play no part in my selections for the bench — nor did it. My test for a Justice of the Supreme Court was not only integrity but also his modernity of view: Was he a man capable of interpreting the spirit of the new Constitution as well as the letter of the law? Was he a jurist and not merely legalistic? I quizzed each one of the remaining Supreme Court Justices in turn to ascertain whether they placed other human rights on an equality with the right of property. Those who sought by themselves, or with political pull, an appointment to the Supreme Court or to the new Court of Appeals were, in my view, utterly undesirable for such a post.

As for incompetency or graft in the service, I was quite ruthless. During the first quarter of the year 1936, my administration collected two million pesos more from the existing tax laws than had my immediate predecessors. I advocated an inheritance tax law and an increase in the income tax in the higher brackets. My motto in all these matters was progressive conservatism.

In educational matters I promoted the growth and welfare of the University of the Philippines, and blocked an attempt of the Church to impose religious instruction in the public schools.

On one, perhaps minor, point, I encountered considerable criticism. This was in the many improvements and additions I made in the Executive Mansion, known as the Malacañan Palace. I have always had a strong creative urge in the matter of public buildings, but in this case I knew that the Filipinos would regard the improvement and adornment of the Executive Mansion as a matter of national prestige. Moreover, these public works were not done for my own comfort and personal enhancement and that of my family, for we spent actually far less time in Malacañan than had my predecessors as Chief Executive, since I was so constantly on the move in the provinces. I really had in mind an effort to block the original “Burnham Plan” for moving the Executive Mansion, which in itself would have been very costly, and, in my opinion, nothing could really replace this old palace with its historic associations. It may also be added that in the new city named after me, some ten kilometers to the north of Manila, I had constructed by the Government hundreds of houses for the working people. These dwellings with all the comforts of sanitation and with playgrounds near-by for children were occupied at a nominal rental by the former dwellers in the insanitary barrio of Tondo.

After six months of planning and consultation my new administration was formed and the Philippine Commonwealth was fully launched upon its career.