Published Date

April 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 24: What Lies Ahead for the Philippines? (1945)

For the first elections, held in September 1935, there were about 1,600,000 registered voters, of whom over a million actually voted. The population then was estimated at between thirteen and fourteen million people. The reason for the small electorate is that citizens must meet certain tests of property ownership or literacy in order to vote. Popular elections in the Philippines are not yet fully representative of the people.

In November 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was inaugurated with Manuel Quezon as president and Sergio Osmeña as vice-president, and with a National Assembly of ninety-eight members, most of whom had already had years of experience in legislative matters. In the following years the government operated with a degree of cooperation between the United States and Philippine officials which was the natural outgrowth of associations during the preceding decades.

Law and order were maintained; health standards were kept at a high level; the number of schools steadily increased. The administration went on record in a campaign for “social justice,” with minimum wage laws, favorable labor legislation, tenancy laws, and other measures designed to improve the condition of the laborers and tenants and small farmers who make up the bulk of the population.

During the Commonwealth period, one outstanding weakness became apparent. Frequent party splits and subsequent coalitions had led to the development of one strong political party, the Nacionalista. Such a situation was more or less inevitable as long as independence was the main goal of the people. But now that independence was in sight, no strong opposition party developed to bring forward a new platform. Power remained concentrated in the hands of the party leaders who were at the same time the chief officers in the government. The millions of poor and underprivileged were still without a spokesman. Although the president went on record for a better deal for the Filipino tao (peasant), he continued to draw support from the moneyed and landed interests.

The constitution granted the president exceptionally broad powers. Some foreign observers expressed a fear of such developments under the strong hand of President Quezon. The period of emergency preceding the actual outbreak of war justified Quezon’s assumption of many of these powers. It remains to be seen whether the deeply entrenched one-party system and the strength of the presidential office will survive in the new independent government. For the sake of postwar unity and order, a strong hand at the helm may seem necessary. But the dangers for a people not yet as a whole politically conscious are only too apparent.


Have the Filipinos met the test?

When the Japanese struck in December 1941, the Filipinos proved their loyalty to the United States and to the cause for which both countries stood-just as they had in 1917. Immediately after the first attack on the Philippines, the Assembly was called into extraordinary session, and on December 11, 1941, authorized the placing of all resources of the country at the disposal of the United States. Full support was pledged to the United States in the war against Japan.

Some months earlier, thousands of men in the Philippine army had been combined with the United States Army in the Philippines, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Many of them had had only a few months’ training; many were poorly equipped. But they fought heroically beside the Americans until surrender became inevitable. Many died on Bataan and Corregidor; many were held as prisoners of the Japanese all during the occupation; and many died in prison camps.

The Japanese occupation interrupted the continuance of the Philippine government on its native soil. Commonwealth officials were brought to Washington where they set up headquarters and continued to work for the eventual liberation of their country, taking part meanwhile in various meetings of the United Nations. When General MacArthur stepped ashore on Leyte, President Osmeña accompanied him.

Independence without security?

The tragedy of Bataan and Corregidor was due to many causes which are understood much better now than they were in December of 1941. One of them, doubtless, was uncertainty—which the Independence Act had failed to clarify—as to the exact extent of our responsibility after 1946.

We were, however, responsible for the protection of the Philippines until 1946 and we did retain military and other reservations and armed forces in the country. After the Commonwealth period such military reservations were to be surrendered to the new nation, with the exception of naval reservations and fueling stations. The question of what to do with these was to be adjusted and settled by the president of the United States and the independent Philippine government within two years after independence was recognized.

Moreover, the president of the United States was requested, by the terms of the Independence Act, to negotiate with foreign powers a treaty for the perpetual neutralization of the Philippines. In view of the serious state of international affairs even when the act was passed, it is not surprising that the neutrality clause was never carried out.

The Philippine government, recognizing its ultimate responsibility for the defense of the country, passed the National Defense Act as its first act, and secured General MacArthur as military adviser to draw up a defense plan and put it into operation. A national army was planned for which 40,000 new recruits would be trained each year, the total reserve to number 400,000 by the middle of 1946. Lack of trained officers and inadequacy of the facilities made it impossible to maintain the training at the pace intended. When war came, after less than six years of preparation, the reserve forces numbered only some 100,000 men, poorly equipped and no match in training for the enemy invaders.

Our own forces in the islands were small, even though they were being reinforced all during 1941. At the beginning of the war, the United States Army in the Philippines numbered only about 19,000, plus 12,000 Philippine Scouts. A large number of the latter were new recruits.

In July 1941, MacArthur was put in command of the combined forces of the United States Army in the Philippines and the Philippine army. The Independence Act contained the authority for the United States to call into service all forces organized by the Philippine government.

Why was this step taken? Had the independence of the Philippines been threatened? Not directly. But it was becoming only too clear that Japan’s path to the south, which had already embraced Indo-China and Hainan and the Spratley Islands as well as the China coast, was directed toward territory where the American flag was still flying. The United States was still responsible for the conduct of Philippine foreign affairs. If the Philippines were threatened, we were automatically involved. Had Japan waited until after 1946 to strike, and had American policy with regard to a free Philippines still not crystallized, our reaction might have been somewhat different.

As American-Japanese relations grew steadily worse, measures taken by the United States Congress to restrict Japan’s activities had repercussions in the Philippines. Export controls to prevent the Axis powers from securing strategic materials had to be extended to Philippine exports because Japan was getting hemp, coconut oil, and important minerals there. The freezing of Japanese funds by the United States in July 1941 likewise touched the Philippines. It was apparent that our fate and that of the Filipinos were still closely interwoven. Japan recognized this, and a few hours after Pearl Harbor struck at the Philippines.

Has the war changed our policy?

Our initial defeats in the early months of the war were the results of many errors in policy and in understanding the nature of Axis aggression. American isolationism, concern with domestic issues, and uncertainty with regard to our future relations with the Philippines all had their share in our reverses. Reviewing these cannot change the history of the past few years, but it can guide our course in the future.

We were unable to protect the valiant Filipinos and our own civilians and fighting men in the islands. Admiration and gratitude for Filipino loyalty and sympathy for the suffering of the people have been abundantly expressed. The stage seems to be set for a sympathetic consideration of the unsolved problems that remain, and a program is gradually unfolding that may set a new standard for the eventual solution of all colonial questions. It is for this reason that the wise implementation of such a program is of such vital importance today.

In the opening days of the war, on December 28, 1941, President Roosevelt broadcast an important message to Manila. A new policy toward the Philippines was declared. It was contained in the following words:

“I give to the people of the Philippines my solemn pledge that their freedom will be redeemed and their independence established and protected. The entire resources, in men and in material, of the United States stand behind that pledge.”

Never before had the United States pledged itself to protect the independence o£ the Philippines. Even in 1934 that had been seen as one of the great problems facing a country attaining freedom in the midst of such unsettled world conditions. Yet at that earlier date it is highly doubtful whether the Congress or people of the United States would have’ been willing to underwrite Philippine independence after 1946.

Born under the stress of war, in one of the grimmest hours of American history, that pledge was honored by new legislation in June 1944, when the United States was beginning to press its attacks closer to the Japanese in the Philippines and in the home islands of Japan itself. The Congress of the United States authorized the president to make arrangements for bases in the Philippines for the mutual protection of both countries. Commonwealth authorities in Washington were quick to proclaim that this legislation had their approval. The same bill made it possible for the president to advance the date of independence of the Philippines, if constitutional processes and normal functions of government had been restored before that date.

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