Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Establishment of American Civil Government

The Establishment of the American Civil Government
By: F. Sionil Jose

Even before Dewey’s fleet steamed in the murk of dawn to drive the conquistador out of Manila, the inevitable loss of the Philippines by Spain was already envisioned by a few eminent Filipinos. In their ayrie in Madrid where they had imbibed the ideas of Spanish liberalism, the Filipino émigré-writers and propagandists knew it. In 1891, writing for “La Solidaridad”, the national hero Jose Rizal, in his article “The Philippines a Century Hence”, foresaw that if the reforms needed in the Philippines were not granted, the Filipinos would revolt and, after this, this will “either fall into the hands of the Americans or triumph in the struggle.”

It is of course, common knowledge that not all the peaceful avenues for setting America’s quarrel with Spain were explored, that the excursion of the American fleet to Hong Kong and thence to Manila was premeditated. Eager to show the decaying Old World its strength, the United States needed no prodding to embark on its dream of an Asian empire.

The Philippines was the stuff with which that dream was made of. And while American imperialists dreamed, a foot soldier, one Pvt. Robert Grayson of the 1st Nebraska Volunteers, stood guard one night on a bridge in San Juan del Monte.

It was eight o’clock and the sting of mosquitoes and the humid rage of the tropics must have peeved him. No imperialist he: just a small town with an itchy finger. He pressed the trigger that snuffed out the life of a Filipino insurrecto crossing the bridge. The Filipino-American War was on.

Meanwhile, in the White House, a president was wracked with insomnia. After pacing the floor, President William McKinley sank on his knees and asked God to show him the way.

            It came to me this way,” McKinley said later. “that we could not give them (The Philippines) back to Spain – that would be cowardly and dishonorable; we could not turn them to France and Germany – that would be bad business and discreditable; we could not lead them to themselves- they were unfit for self-government ad they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos and uplift and civilize them and, by God’s grace, do the very best we could.”

Was it by God’s immaculate will then that the Filipinos were to come under American rule just as it was God’s command that for three centuries, Spain’s imperial colors were hoisted over this country?

McKinley, who was running for re-election, implicitly said it was so. Theodore Roosevelt Sr., Senator Cabot Lodge and all the Manifest Destiny jingoists concurred. They were met with a formidable opposition by William Jennings Bryan, by many Republicans and ever-alert American public opinion. It is simply unthinkable, said those who opposed the American Philippine adventure that a nation which is founded on the belief that “governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, should not impose their will against a people who were fighting for their own freedom.

This devastating argument crystallized America’s sense of guilt and many of her policy makers were constrained to look upon the Philippines not as a colony but as a trust. Their protestations of injured self-respect, their shallow argument that we were unprepared for the responsibilities of freedom may have been quite true, but only in the sense that we were not strong enough to defend ourselves against the Germans and the British ho were then around and waiting, too, for an opportunity to force us into their empires.

But for the Americans to have concluded that we were unprepared for self-government was a fallacy. By then, the Malolos Constitution had been framed – a most liberal document – that can compare with the most democratic in the world. For all its inadequacies, the Spaniards had developed in the Philippines a school system that trained not only priests but also scholars steeped in the humanities. It was, after all, in the Philippines where they established the University of Sto. Tomas – Asia’s oldest University – and other schools which, though closed to the Indios or native Filipinos for a time, gradually opened their doors to mestizos and native Filipinos who soon recognized that they were not inferior to the Spaniards, whether born in the Philippines or sent to manila from Mexico and Spain. It was one of the aims of the Propaganda Movement, as epitomized by La Solidaridad, to show that the Filipinos were capable and equal to the tasks of government and of the church, which were the sole prerogative of the Spanish hierarchs.

Although the Americans did not permit the Filipinos to be represented in Paris when Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States, the Americans recognized the capacity of the ilustrados to rule. The ilustrados on the other hand saw the immediate necessity of collaborating with the Americans. It was these considerations, perhaps, which led the Americans to institute as quickly as possible (even while guerilla warfare was still being waged by the tulisanes) the civil government and transfer the responsibilities of government gradually to the Filipinos. Thus, even when the death throes of the First Republic were not yet over, the pattern for eventual self-rule by the Filipinos was already set.

In 1899, President William McKinley designated Dr. Jacob G. Schurman, president of Cornell University, Admiral; George Dewey, Gen. Elwell E. Otis (then military governor of the country), Charles Denby and Dean C. Worcester of the University of Michigan as the members of the  First Philippine Commission – a body to “study” the Philippine situation.

At the time, the guerillas still controlled many areas of the country and it was physically impossible for the commission to make a thorough study of the needs of the country and to make final recommendations. It did draw up, however, the following far-reaching plans: the setting up of a government with two legislatures, withdrawal of the military government and the conservation of natural resources for the Filipinos, appointment of high caliber Filipinos to executive offices and the building of a nationwide public school system. Now, after more than six decades since this system was set up, it has become America’s shining legacy to the Philippines. More than any other institution, it has been responsible for the mobility of thousands of lower class Filipinos and created in the country one of the richest funds of technology and creative energy.

The First Commission which was only advisory in nature was immediately succeeded by the Taft Commission. Now vested with legislative and executive powers, the Taft Commission hastened the transfer of the military government to civilians. Composed of Judge William Howard Taft, Dean Worcester, Luke E. Wright, Henry C. Ide and Bernard Moses, it was an efficient body that knew it had to work fast, if only to show the “folks back home” that the Republicans were not incompetent in their Asian adventure.

Upon arriving in the country in 1900, the Commission immediately made public its program. Maj. Gen. Arthur MacArthur (father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur) who was the military governor at that time, retained some of his powers.

After several public sessions, the Commission passed more than 400 basic laws and laid the foundation for the civil service system. It also formed municipal and provincial governments, organized the Constabulary for routing the “ladrones” and “tulisanes” in the mountains.

In the meantime, the military government was just as active. It had committed atrocities in the field but eventually, its achievement in government appeared impressive. When gen. Merritt took over the government from the Spanish Governor-general, one of his official acts was to set up military courts. He also helped shaped the Supreme Court and filled it with several luminaries (Cayetano Arellano, Manual Araullo, Gregorio Araneta, Raymundo Melliza, Ambrosio Rianzares, Julio Llorente and Florentino Torres) and three Americal officers.

Municipal elections were held in Baliwag, Bulacan on May 6, 1899, was the first town to have a Filipino mayor, Francisco Guerrero, under the American regime.

A year later, in Washington, Senator Spooner of Wisconsin inserted a significant amendment in the Army Appropriation Act providing that “all the powers necessary for the government in the Philippines shall be vested in persons directed by the President of the United States and that their aim should be to make the Filipinos enjoy freely their liberty, property and religion.”

The Spooner Amendment wrote finish to the military rule and on July 4, 1901, Judge William Taft of the Presidential Commission, as first civil governor, spoke before a throng at the Luneta. His face glistening, his white mane aquiver, he laid down in simple terms the basis of American policy towards the Philippines. His lenient and liberal views concerning the Philippine desire for freedom won him many friends among the Filipinos but he also displeased many, particularly the Manila-Americans whose business interests openly collided with those of the Filipinos.

It is not difficult to fathom why the American administration tried to suppress the resurgent nationalism of the Filipinos during the first decade of this century. But while did they channel the energies of fiery leaders to the more basic task at hand and gave them more responsibilities in the management of the government.

Governor Taft helped in passing before the American Congress of the Philippine Bill of 1902, which provided for the establishment of a Philippine Assembly, the publication of census and the dispatch of Filipino resident commissioners to Washington to present Filipino views.

With the exception of the non-Christian areas, the administration of the country was gradually turned over to the Filipinos and by 1913, the Commission was controlled by Filipino themselves. In President Wilson, the Filipino leaders found a sympathizer and friend. He gave five seats of the Commission to them and retained four for the Americans.

By 1916 when the Jones Law (sponsored by Rep. William Atkinson Jones, a Virginia Democrat) who passed the pattern for American rule was even more clearly defined. Filipino independence was assured.

The early part of the American regime was not, however, without its basic shortcomings. Their divination should have not been difficult. The development of the American nation, after all, started with the land, from the robust energy of its settlers. It was during the American regime that the real impetus for the plantation of the economy developed; it was the Americans who hammered out the protective tariffs for Philippine agricultural products and started the bonanza of sugar quota whose evils and inequalities persist to this very day. In short, the agrarian problem which continues to bedevil the country was largely ignored by the Americans.

They inherited it from the Spaniards, no doubt. Furthermore, it was also deeply woven into the social fabric – a curse that had its beginnings in the encomiendas, in the royal grants of vast tracts of land to court favorites and to supposedly benign dispensers of faith – the friars.

The early administrators were aware of this. In fact, Governor Taft even went to Rome and had an audience with the Pope. But their efforts, in its totality, was lukewarm. In the first place, they were quite irresolute about disturbing the social order and furthermore, their hands were tied by the Treaty of Paris which protected the rights of the powerful religious orders – the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Recollects.

Due to the negotiations made in 1903 by Taft and his assistants, the government was able to buy only 165,000 hectares for US 7 million dollars from the friars and consequently, some 60 thousand tenants were given titles to farms which they and their forefathers had tilled.

But the sale of the friar lands was not a final solution to agrarian unrest nor was it a continuous effort. There was a heavy opposition to land reform since the friars and the Roman Catholic organizations that owned the lands were not willing to let go their properties.

The friar lands, moreover, is but one aspect of the agrarian problem. The cadastral surveys that were made shortly after the start of the American occupation legalized the ownership of many Filipinos of their land. Unfortunately, it also made the land grabbers of many educated and wealthy Filipinos who saw in the technicality of the surveys an opportunity to rob the ignorant farmers. Unlettered thousands who used the natural landmarks of mounds, trees and trails, as the boundaries of their farms suddenly found themselves dispossessed by a scrap of a paper called Torrens Title.

It has often been claimed that the one single factor, which contributed to the economic growth of the country during the American regime, was its free trade with the United States.

In 1902, our exports to the United States were already granted a 25 percent discount on the regular American tariff rate. Furthermore, the Treaty of Paris provided for preferential treatment for a period of ten years and even when this time elapsed, the United States Congress quickly enacted laws that sent American goods duty-free to the Philippines, at the same time, Philippine goods were admitted at a reduced tariff.

Preferential trade no doubt channeled wealth to some favored segments of the society; it was not however absorbed by the nation’s lower class. The prosperity did not go down to the form and fifty years later, scholars making studies on the national economy confirmed this conclusion.

The artificial prosperity was known, of course, to Filipino leaders like Aguinaldo, Quezon, Osmena and others who advocated economic nationalism. But such pleas were cast to the wind. More emphasis one export crops like tobacco, coconut, sugar and abaca were given by the producers while industrialization was dilly-dallied with.

Time has shown the utter folly of the arrangements that came under the guise of the benevolent free trade but it will take more than the efforts of three generations before Filipinos will be able to confront those pessimists who say that “in 15 minutes, Philippine economy will crumble if it will cut from America’s apron strings.”

It has been said that the Spanish regime was characterized by the building of churches and Americans built schools. America also built roads: there were primitive trails, these were widened into provincial roads. The road building program at times was on scale, particularly with such engineering feats as the Kennon road. Criticized as a useless expenditure and whim of the American rulers who wanted a retreat in Baguio, the kennon Road was but one facet of the attention that the United States directed on the transportation problem.

The record in public health was just as impressive, the Americans moved to sanitize the country, to banish the filth that was the cause of cholera and smallpox epidemics at the turn of the century. The large-scale vaccinations and improvement of sanitation was primarily designed to protect American lives. Nevertheless it had the effect of making the whole country the cleanest in all Asia.

In the regions that were already at peace, the soldiers became the first teachers. With candies, free books and pencils, they lured Filipino children to classroom and by 1901 more than thousand Filipinos already knew by heart the story of a boy named George and now he chopped down his cherry tree. 

Barely a month after the civil government was set up 600 teachers arrived on the transport “Thomas”. They brought with them to the barrios and to the towns America’s public school system, a legacy that was completed with the establishment of the University of the Philippines in 1908.

“Our ambition (in the Philippines)” said Charles B. Elliot, “should be to make good and efficient Filipinos out of all the inhabitants of the islands. It is not necessary to make Yankees out of them.”

But the avowed intention, for all its pious institutionalization by the Americans, turned out differently. There is in the Filipino a voracious capacity to assimilate foreign influences, to mimic the vices of the West, not its virtues. The Americans had done in a few years what the Spaniards could not accomplish lay down the foundations of political modernization. But this modernization did not create a viable national identity that would shape institutions, which, in turn, will accommodate the talents, the energies and the aspirations of the Filipino themselves.

In other words, American style politics has not been able to enlarge the institutions so that they could serve – not just the oligarchy that had its beginnings in the Spanish mestizo elite – but the Indios, the masses for whom Bonifacio started the Philippine Revolution.

In a cogent sense, Filipinos could not blame anyone but themselves. The Americans turned out to be benevolent administrators who could not help themselves. In the first decade of their rule, they had to work with the ilustrados whom the Spaniards could not accommodate into their power enclave. And most of these ilustrados were in a sense, a creation of the colonial society. And as creations of colonialism, they were no different in values and attitudes from the colonialists whom they replaced – whether they were Spaniards, Americans or Japanese. They did not have the granite determination to fructify the Philippine vision which is no other than the creation of a nation that will endure because there is commitment to its building from the poorest farmer and laborer.

Much of our historical obsession today is centered on the Revolution of 1896. Had Bonifacio’s revolution succeeded and the Philippines were a sovereign state when the Spanish-American War broke out, could Rizal’s prophecy in La Solidaridad fulfilled? Or, on that fateful evening that President McKinley courted divine interference. What would have happened if he decided to let go the Philippines? Would have it reverted into the anarchist hell as he had dourly foretold and therefore, confirmed the lingering suspicion that the Filipinos would not be able to govern themselves?

The institution of civil government by the Americans trained us in the craft of government and laid down the foundations too, of the two-party system. But at the same time, it sapped the vigor, determination and motivation for the Revolution that would have helped us to self-discovery.

Whatever lofty intentions the Americans had, they succeeded in making Filipinos into poor imitations of themselves. It is now time, therefore, for the Filipino to wake up from the euphoria of the American legay and exorcise themselves from history’s necromancy.

The Americans – as exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson – were able to spell out for themselves their national goals, casting themselves to adrift from their European and British past. If the Filipinos are to imbibe the best that American civilization has to offer, it is in this aspect of America’s past that they should learn. And because they have also been tutors and benefactors, they will only be too glad that the Filipinos have learned their lessons well.

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