Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Proclamation of Philippine Independence

The Proclamation of Philippine Independence
(By: Juan C. Tuvera)

      One of the most interesting sidelights of Manila’s “Glorious Fourth” was the incident in which an unnamed US Army Lieutenant figured sovereignty was passing from American to Filipino hands at 9:16 am. The American and Filipino flags were moved towards their symbolic places – the first towards the ground, where first United States ambassador Paul V. McNutt received it in his arms, the second up the pole to soar high, as one impassioned editorial writer was later to describe it. To get a glimpse of historic ceremony, the more curious of the 200,000 crowd pushed it elbowed for positions on elevated places. “persons fought for space”, a gleeful reporter wrote the next day. One American Lieutenant was shoved off from a U.S truck and fell flat on the ground. Getting up he climbed back and told some Filipinos: “Get off United States property.”

      Exactly a decade later, the Filipinos, shoved off a truck of another color, rose to a man and, brushing manganese dust off their sleeves, gave the American substantially the same rebuked that the daring U.S army Lieutenant gave the Filipinos at Luneta. The 1956 Bueno Hill incident, in which the Filipino miner’s manganese truck figured with no less than the U.S army vehicle of July 4, 1946, touch off the first real move in this country towards nationalism. In the resulting bases, reexamination issue, “Get off Philippine property” came louder and braver than it had actually been spoken. Soon after the nationalistic clamor began, the U.S did get off Philippines – by relinquishing its preposterous claim to ownership of American bases in the Philippines.

      It is perhaps part of the unique place in history which McNutt and other American spoke fervidly in referring to Philippine independence, that nationalism came to this country ten years late. One American writer has frankly described Philippine independence as the product of liberality of the American spirit. In great detail if sometimes with little prudence other Americans had pointed to the fact that independence was a gift to the Philippines, a privileged granted, a promised fulfilled, the result of boundless magnanimity.

      As early as 1913, Francis Burton Harrison, in his inaugural address as governor General, described the American position in the Philippines as a “role which is without a parallel in history.” The “unique” US-Philippines relation which this role breed through the years, including those after July 4, 1946, gained even more emphasis when through popular mass movements Indonesia and India, both Asian countries like the Philippines, won their independence – first through armed revolution, the second through the “civil disobedience” which no less than the American Henry David  Thoreau had popularized. In the same decade, other Asian countries became, in their turn independent, in every case after some popular upheaval in all of Asia in the Philippines thus, indeed, occupied a special position, that of being the one nation in the region where nationalism did not precede the task of living an independent life. While other newly independent Asian countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, immediately severed the umbilical cords and struck out for themselves, receiving aids along the way where such aid was sincere and unselfish, the Philippines continued in a prolonged state of infanthood. Having received independence as a gift, “voluntary and freely bestowed,” the Philippines felt obliged to regard the benefactor with extreme gratitude and not infrequently with pusillanimity. For a whole decade after 1946, the Philippines was Asia’s most polite nation.

      Across the same decade one may look back today and discover the post-independence period, with its unique accent on reverence and gratitude for the former colonizer, is rooted in favorable soil. “We have,“ the late Manuel A. Roxas who said in his augural address as the Republic’s first President, “yet a greater bulwark today… the friendship and devotion of America.” That friendship which is the greatest ornament of our independence raises as far above the level of our intrinsic power and prestige.” the time was propitious for such solemn and thoughtful words. All over the country lay ruins of war, as sense of terrible urgency hang in the air, and in Washington D.C stood the great American Congress, which but a few days before had voted 525 million dollars for reconstruction aid to the Philippines and 100 million dollars worth of surplus American military property to provide for immediate Filipino needs, the same Congress had also just approved a scheme of benevolent trade relations – free trade for the first 8 years, nominal duties until 1954, a graduated tariff from henceforth until 1954. The independence tree had, thus, been planted with loving hands. As though in great approval and appreciative audience cheered and clapped when, symbolically at a tree planting ceremony to heightened the spirit of July 4, Mrs. Roxas threw the first spade full of earth, Mrs. McNutt poured water to start the young sapling in life, and Mrs. MacArthur look an iron fence around it to symbolize defense and security throughout the tree’s life.”  For a touch of that mystery that was prophetically, to characterize much of the poet independent years, the reporter who wrote down those happy notes added: “The tree was a common species of Pterocarpus.”

      In 1946, the Philippines had three major objectives, first of all Filipino leaders, at the behest of a felt attitude, were determined to hold the United States to its pledge to grant independence to this country in July 4, the second place, there was a general if never spoken feeling that the Philippines had become a victim of the widespread destruction because of its wartime alliance with the United States.

      The view was calmly implied in the government’s representations, in the year and in the previous one, to secure American assistance hand in hand with the grant of independence. Third objective was to secure more guarantees than there had been before the war for the defense and security of the New Republic. The general atmosphere of goodwill between the two countries made the achievement of the three objectives not only by possible but quick. In short order, the Philippine Rehabilitation Act was passed, the War damage Commission created and the Philippine Trade Act (now popular known as the Bell Act) enacted, it would seem in the Philippine post war benefit. Agreement of the American military bases was to be formalized Still later, but In this regard, as subsequent events were soon to prove, the benefits were strictly mutual, if not actually heavier on the American side.

      By some unpleasant incident for which the American administration at that time as partly responsible, the proclamation of Philippine independence itself momentarily suffered the threat of postponement. Paul V. McNutt, while on his way to Manila in December 1945 to assume his old post as American High Commissioner, declared in Tokyo that, “it is an open secret that most Filipino don’t particularly want independence…” this statement coupled with the Filipino memory that McNutt had never before endeared himself to the Filipino heart, led to violent reactions in Manila, where upon his arrival in Manila thousands” marched in massive demonstrations. It was obvious that he had come with no specific instructions on the issue except to use his own discretion. Whether he saw in the Filipino reactions an evidence of inflamed nationalism or an expression of hurt vanity, he quickly withdraw his Tokyo statement and, at a press conference declared that “we will carry out (our) pledge.”

      McNutt’s Tokyo statement represented the same frame of mind I which in 1939, he had been recalled as High Commissioner by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that year, the pledge to grant independence on July 4, 1946 was already in the statute rooks for five years, as a principal provision of the Tydings-McDuffie law (passed March 24, 1934). It was a promised although previously unwritten; had always been expressed by all other U.S Presidents. And Roosevelt himself would have seen the last person to alter the long-established pattern of presidential thinking with respect the ultimate Philippine independence.

      In fact, it was another Roosevelt, Theodore, who has early as 1908 set the pattern. During a breakfast in Washington with the late Manuel L. Quezon, Roosevelt declared in unmistakable terms that he favored the granting of independence in 20 years. This statement never quite resolved the mystery over an earlier pledge, at least one historian had claimed that a competent American official promise immediate independence to Aguinaldo while the latter was in exile – but it did pave the way, more than any other previous Statement for the fulfillment of the Philippine aims. Eight years later, in 1916, the U.S Congress passed the Jones Law, the purpose of which, in its own words, was” place in the hands of people of the Philippines as large as control of their domestic affairs as can be given then… in order that, by the use and exercise of popular franchise and governmental powers, they may be better prepared to fully assume the responsibilities and enjoy the complete privileges of complete independence.

      The Jones Law embodied a compromise of two conflicting attitudes with respect to the form and manner by which preparations for independence must be made. The Republican Party favored the view that Philippine independence may be granted only after a “democratic” government had been established thereby in effect prescribing American standards of self-government of the country, and the Democratic Party, on the other hand, was convinced that the establishment of a “stable” government in the Philippines was sufficient; prerequisite for the grant of its independence. This view in modified form, was acceptable to a long line of Presidents, including McKinley, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, who believed that the grant of Philippine independence should be premised not merely on the stability but also on the establishment of a “popular” government. By 1935, when the Constitution of the Philippines was finally signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presence of Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, Constitutional Convention President Claro M. Recto, and Convention Member Manuel A. Roxas, the contention that the Philippine was well on its way to full preparedness had clearly set in…”

      Never quite so definite were American economic aims in the Philippines. When in 1946, Rep. C. Jasper Bell declared in a July 4 statement that “nothing is farthest from the minds of the Americans that to hold economic sovereignty over the Philippines,’ he was actually uttering empty words. From the record of American administration in the Philippines, it was obvious that his statement had been carefully rehearsed to accomplish a double-purpose – to suggest that the Philippine economy in 1946 was far from sound and at the same time to give polite assurance that the United States would not take advantage of that weak position. Bell’s double talk was to become more even evident when farther in his statement, he explained in his own fashion that “without amendment of the Philippine Constitution providing for equal rights… it would be difficult to make American capital come in…”

      Genteel contradictions of this sort were familiar in the entire U.S. “experiment” in the Philippines. Through its political aspect, this experiment demonstrated that liberal spirit to which lavish and worthy tribute has made time and again. On the other hand, selfish imperialistic design were mush in evidence in the American economic programs, carried out in some instances with impeccable care and in others, with what now seems, in perspective of the years, a deliberate failure to meet certain obvious necessities.

      The United States established by means of free trade a virtual monopoly both in the importation of some Philippine market for certain American export. This free trade raised strong protests from some American producers who foreseeing ruinous competition placed themselves in the forefront of a continuing pro-independent movement. Profiting from the lesson, the United States, through the Philippines Trade Bill, set higher duties on Philippine goods than on American goods entering in the Philippines. In the same manner, quotas were established for products imported form the Philippines although no similar quotas were set for American goods entering the Philippines. To clinch American advantage through the Philippine Trade Bill, additional quotas were set for Philippine products offering substantial completion with like American goods although, amazingly, no provision was made to protect Philippine products in the same manner.

      Although American economic role over the Philippines had always been planned carefully, blue-printed by the experts as far as the pre-war years, every move to ensure its imposition was executed with utmost finesses and the spell of its gracefulness continues to reap rewards to this day, particularly insidious had been the “pegging” of the peso to the American dollar, an act which constitutes one of the supreme triumphs of American ingenuity. A half-Nelson in the guise of paternal embrace, its promoted U.S monopoly of the Philippine economic potential by inveigling Filipino exporters to ship their product mainly (if not solely) to the United States while at the same time seducing the Philippine market into almost exclusive patronage of Philippine products. It was a neat business feint that has yet to see its equal anywhere in the world in this fact lies one of the comic ironies of the post-independence period. Advertised as the “show window of democracy” in the Far East, the first Asian nation to achieve complete maturity for self-government, the Philippines only too willingly accepted the role of economic pawn in the Wall Street chessboard.

      The inevitable relationship of politics and economy has created those conditions of government conduct, which Claro M. Recto bewailed in the speech criticizing the Philippine role as “U.S protectorate.”

      Half a century of Philippine relations with the United States, however, can hardly permit more than a sense of disenchantment over American economic actuations in this country. And no less disenchantment has been puerile character of Filipino leadership since July 4, 1946. On that day jeepney drivers, ice cream vendors, and snack counter operators, equipped with an almost exasperating vision, doubled their prices and promptly made a fortune. A small share of that vision of the government itself could gain similar rewards in domestic prestige, international respect and even fortune, for no one may disguise the sentiment today, that July 4 deserved far better price than it was actually sold.

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