CHAPTER VI: IN WASHINGTON
IT WAS an extremely cold night in Washington and I feared that I might catch pneumonia, against which I had been warned before leaving Manila by my friend, Mr. W. Cameron Forbes, then Secretary of Commerce and Communications. Secretary Forbes is known as the roadbuilder of the Philippines. So I spent my first Christmas Eve in Washington duly shut up in my rooms at the Champlain Apartment House. The following day, however, although the streets were covered with snow, I ventured to go out, protected with fur-lined gloves and fur overcoat. After walking for a little while I rushed back to my apartment fearing that I would lose my ears.
On New Year’s Day, 1910, the senior Resident Commissioner, Mr. Legarda, took me to wish Happy New Year to President Taft, Vice-President James S. Sherman and Speaker Joseph G. Cannon.
Mr. Taft, while at the head of the Philippine Government, was called “the friend of the Filipinos”. In later years the feeling of my countrymen towards him changed somewhat because of his insistence that it would take no less than two generations before the Filipinos could be capable of self- government, but, although I never had the opportunity of being close to President Taft, either while he was Civil Governor of the Philippines, Secretary of War, or President of the United States, and regardless of whether his conception of our capacity for self-government was right or wrong, in the perspective of history I am bound to affirm that President Taft had deservedly won that title. It is hard to believe now how much opposition and abuse the first Civil Governor (afterwards, the title was changed to Governor-General) received from the early American residents in the Philippines. Many of them doubtless remembered how the Southerners were dealt with after the Civil War and, therefore, felt that no better treatment should be given to the “brown brothers”. Still others were told by English and Dutch subjects how foolish it was — and how dangerous — to attempt the experiment of “shooting” democracy into the fabric of “Oriental” minds. These critics overlooked the fact that more than three hundred years before the Spaniards did shoot — and successfully — the Christian religion into the souls of the Filipinos, and that Christianity had prepared us for democracy since Christ’s teachings were indeed the essence of democratic ideals and principles. Anyway, the fact remains that Mr. Taft, in a moment of unsuppressed anger, called his newspaper critics “the lions of the Press”, and pointed out the way of escape to those who did not approve of the American policy — “the Philippines for the Filipinos.” The exit through Corregidor, he asserted, was wide enough for every dissenter to get out.
After the Christmas holidays, Commissioner Legarda introduced me to the House of Representatives and I was sworn in.
My service in the House of Representatives was one of the most pleasant and fruitful periods of my life. No one can possibly imagine how much of human value there is to be found under the two wings of the Capitol. This imposing building is at once the best university and the nicest playhouse in the world. To the outsider, the Senators and Representatives may be mere politicians with only one purpose in mind — to satisfy the whims or promote the interests of their constituents. To one who has heard them in debate or delivering eloquent addresses, to one who has conversed with them in their cloak rooms, their offices, or while taking meals, to one who has been with them in formal affairs or on small private parties, to one who has even taken part in a few more lively gatherings where some of them have been present, to such a person, especially if he be a foreigner more inclined at first to discover faults than to find virtues, to that person, I say, it is a great privilege to have spent amongst these legislators six of his youthful and inquisitive years. When I left Congress for the Philippines to be the first President of the first Philippine Senate, I had already learned many lessons in leading and handling men, whether as a mass or as individuals, in any walk of life.
In the following condensed narrative of my work in Congress,I shall only mention the names of those who, by reason of their assignment to the Committees which dealt with Philippine affairs, took an active part in Philippine legislation.
The War Department, from the first day of American occupation of the Philippine territory until after the enactment of the Independence Law, had charge of the Government of the Philippines. It was during the Taft administration that I had the honor of meeting the present Secretary of War, the Honorable Henry L. Stimson. He was then holding the same portfolio. From the start he gave me the impression that I had met a great man. The time that has elapsed and further official and personal association with him, has enhanced my admiration and affection for “my old man” as my wife affectionately calls Colonel Stimson.
It was also while I was a member of Congress that I had the good fortune to meet Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He was as handsome a man as could be seen in Washington. Although a new member of the House, he soon won the respect of his colleagues by his devotion to duty, his plain honesty, and his unusual ability.
I will be forgiven if I bring in the name of a man who had little to do with policy-making decisions or important administrative actions affecting the Philippines. But I mention him because I take pride in the fact that I discovered even then his extraordinary mental faculties and his inborn moral courage, although he was then only a young man recently graduated from Harvard. I am referring to Justice Felix Frankfurter whom I met in 1911 as an assistant to the Law Officer of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the War Department.
The most serious obstacle to the performance of my duties in Washington was my very limited knowledge of the English language. I could not even carry on a simple conversation for any length of time. So I decided to hire a teacher who, after the style of General Bandholtz, started to give me lessons in grammar. After diligently taking my first fifteen lessons I came to the conclusion that through this method it would take me a long time before I could deliver my first speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. Thereupon, I gave up the teacher and started to teach myself. With the aid of a Spanish-English dictionary I read newspapers, magazines, books, and more important still, I launched into the social world without the company of any one who could act as my interpreter when I needed assistance. My early experiences in this respect were very amusing and sometimes rather embarrassing. When I failed to find the word to express an idea and could not make myself understood with the help of gestures, it was my wont to supplement the sentence with the corresponding Spanish word.
In May, 1910, exactly five months after my arrival in Washington, I delivered my maiden speech on the floor of the House. My colleagues listened to me not only with courtesy but with generosity, for there was hearty applause at the conclusion of the speech. I spoke in recognition of the benefits which we had received from the Government of the United States. “But despite it all,” I said, “we still want independence… Ask the bird, Sir, who is enclosed in a golden cage if he would prefer his cage and the care of his owner to the freedom of the skies and the allure of the forest.”
My next address to Congress took place when a congressional investigation was being urged by Congressman Martin of Colorado to determine how the Government of the Philippines was carrying out the policy laid down by Congress, that limited to 1024 acres the maximum area of government land that could be sold to corporations or individuals. This law had been enacted soon after the United States had taken the Philippines to prevent the exploitation of the Filipino people by capitalists, whether foreigners or natives. American capital interested in the sugar industry had acquired two very large tracts of land
which the Philippine Government had bought from the friars with funds raised from bonds issued under the security of the Philippine Government. The avowed purpose in buying these extensive properties from the Spanish religious orders was to resell them in small lots to Filipino farmers, and thus to do away with absentee landlordism which had been the most serious cause of the Philippine rebellion against Spain. The reasons given for the sale of these lands to American capital by the American officials in charge of the execution of the congressional policy were twofold: First, that the Act of Congress referred only to lands of the public domain but not to lands acquired by the Government in some other way. And second, that the sale of these lands was made in order to establish the sugar industry in the Philippines on a truly grand scale under modern methods, as had been done in Cuba. It was further alleged that such a method would bring great prosperity to the Philippines.
I spoke in support of the proposed investigation, contending that the establishment of the sugar industry under those conditions would mean the debasement of the Filipinos into mere peons. “Moreover,” I argued, “large investments of American capital in the Philippines will inevitably result in the permanent retention of the Philippines by the United States.” At the climax of my speech I roared: “If the preordained fate of my country is either to be a subject people but rich, or free but poor, I am unqualifiedly for the latter.”
The investigation was ordered by the House of Representatives, and although the sales already made were not annulled, no further sales were made in defiance of the Congressional Act.
In the autumn of 1911 I went on a speech-making tour through the New England states under the auspices of the Anti-Imperialist League whose headquarters was in Boston. The chairman of the League was that distinguished lawyer and noble man, Mr. Moorfield Storey. As honorary vice-presidents of the League, there were listed some of the best known Americans of those days — the then undisputed leader of the Democratic Party, William Jennings Bryan, ex-President Cleveland, Representative Champ Clark, Senator LaFollette, and many others, including the Chief of the Army during the Spanish-American War, General N. A. Miles.
The League had been organized to oppose the acquisition of the Philippines by the United States as being contrary to the principles propounded in the Declaration of Independence. The league feared that the American Republic would blunder away from its glorious history and follow the bloody and greedy policy of the imperialist powers.
My speech-making trip through New England was naturally advertised ahead in the newspapers of those states. When I stepped off the train in the first city in which I was to give an address, I was thrilled with emotion as I saw the railroad station full of people to give me, as I thought, a rousing welcome. I was glad that on the train I had changed my ordinary suit for a cut-away and had put on my top hat. To my surprise, the people in the station remained in their places with their eyes fixed on the train even after I had left the platform. Then I realized that the crowd had not come to meet me, but, perhaps, some notable personage who had traveled from Washington in the same train with me.
At last the train pulled me out of the station and the look of disappointment was evident in every face. True enough, those people were there to see the visiting Filipino, but they had expected an entirely different figure — that of the chief of one of the tribes exhibited at the St. Louis Fair, adorned with plumes on his head, trinkets on his neck, arms and legs, and perhaps a silk G-string. Americans learned right there and then that a Filipino could high-hat them.
Another trip I want to mention was one I made to the city of Cleveland at the invitation of the late Justice Clarke. Newton D. Baker was then mayor of the city and he presided over the meeting. This visit gave me the opportunity to form a friendship which later on helped the Philippine cause when Mr. Baker became Secretary of War under President Woodrow Wilson.
By the end of President Taft’s administration, the fight between him and ex-President Roosevelt left no doubt in the minds of impartial observers as to the outcome of the election. President Wilson, in fact, was elected. Since in one of his previous writings President Wilson had said something not frankly in favor of our independence, I wrote him a letter as soon as he was elected, with a memorandum containing a report on conditions in the Philippines. I placed particular emphasis on the progress made by the Filipino people and the evidences they had given of their capacity for self-government. In his speech in Staunton, Virginia, the President-elect unmistakably took his stand for Philippine independence.