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4 Advocate of Independence

Manuel L. Quezon and the Commonwealth

Thirty years after the American takeover of the Philippines, the U.S.
Congress began seriously considering the possibility of independence for the
Philippines. This was partly due to the work of the Filipino independence
missions which kept the independence issue alive in the U.S. Ever since the
American takeover; Filipinos had sought independence from the U.S., using
various means to gain recognition. Manuel Luis Quezon was one Filipino who
had fought against American rule, first as an officer in Aguinaldo’s army.

Americans had recognized that the Philippines posed a special problem

to American policy and interests, but they did not take concrete action
towards independence except for the passage of the Jones’s Law in 1916 and
Gov.-Gen. Francis Burton Harrison’s moves to prepare Filipinos for
independence by Filipinizing the government. This had been possible
because of the rise of the Democrats to power, but upon the return of the
Republicans in 1921, the move towards independence legislation came to a

As the decade of 1920’s ended, however various factors emerged

which made the U.S. Congress review the possibility of independence for the
Philippines. One of the key factors was the advent of the Great Depression
following the collapse of the U.S. stock market in 1929. American beet sugar
and other interests began to see the Philippines as a threat to American jobs,
particularly with the free entry of Philippine raw materials to the U.S.
Organized American labor saw Filipino immigrants as a threat too, rivaling
Americans for the scarce available jobs. The U.S. army also saw the
Philippines, and the continued possession of the archipelago maintained a
dangerous indefensible salient in the American defense perimeter. In the
Philippines, there was continued agitation for the Philippine independence-
through the sending of additional independence missions and the holding of
an Independence Congress in 1930.

In 1933 the U.S. Congress passed the Hare-Haws Cutting Bill which
provided for a ten-year transition period, during which time the Philippines
would be virtually autonomous, save for financial matters, coinage, duties,
and foreign relations. To represent the U.S. president in the Philippines would
be a high commissioner, but all bills passed by the Philippines encroaching
on the matters still in the hands of the U.S. had to be approved by the U.S.
president. Free trade, which had been imposed on the Philippines by the
Americans in 1909, would be phased out with the gradual imposition of
duties. U.S. Pres. Herbert Hoover voted the bill due to its imperfections and
weaknesses, but the U.S. Congress passed it over his veto. Sergio Osmeña
and Manuel Roxas, who comprised an independence mission lobbying for
independence in the U.S at that time, would get the credit for bringing the
independence legislation back home, but Quezon fought agianst it. He went
to the U.S. to try to block it, but failed. The honor of garnering the legislation
fell on Osmeña’s Roxas’ shoulders, and Quezon bitterly opposed the act.

Osmeña and Roxas urged the Filipino legislators-who would accept or

reject the act to accept the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act as the best that could be
obtained at that time. However, Quezon organized his followers and fought
tooth-and-nail to reject the act. This struggle divided the nation into those for
the act (the pros) and those who opposed it (the antis). Quezon’s main
objections to the act were that it allowed the U.S. to keep military bases in
the Philippines after independence, and that the economic transitory
provisions were too harsh to allow the Philippine economy to survive after
the independence.

Quezon won the battle, and the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act was rejected
in the halls of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives. Quezon
went to the U.S. try to get a better bill, but was not very successful for the
basic points of the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act was passed as the Tydings-
McDuffie Act which Quezon, purportedly the victor in the independence.
Struggle brought home.

Under the Tydings Mc-Duffie Act as also stipulated in the Hare-Hawes

Cutting Act the Philippines would pass through a ten-year transition phase,
where the government would be almost completely autonomous, save for
financial and foreign affairs matters which remained in the hands of the U.S.
The new government would be known as the Philippine Commonwealth. An
American high commissioner would be appointed to represent the U.S.
president in the Philippines, and a gradual phase out of free-trade would
begin five years after the act was accepted by the Philippines. The act was
almost an exact copy of the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act, save for very slight
changes in wording. Despite its similarity with the Hare-Hawes Cutting Act,
Quezon batted for the Tyding McDuffie Act and on 1 May 1934, the
Philippines legislature unanimously ratified it.

The Tyding’s McDuffie Act mandated that a constitutional convention

be held to frame the constitution for the Commonwealth. Elections for the
delegates of the constitutional convention were held June 1934, and the
convention immediately went to work. The convention considered various
constitutions from countries around the world. After all, it had approved by
the president of U.S. and consciously or not much of the U.S. political
tradition was reflected in the 1935 Constitution.

The 1935 Constitution created a republican government based on the

American system of three branches, each checking and balancing the other.
The executive branch was to be headed by a president. The 1935
Constitution also gave the state more authority over the people and the
country’s resources.
Quezon entered politics running for provincial government, running for
political governor in his home province. He served as governor for 2 years,
after which he ran for a set in the Philippine Assembly in 1907. He won, and
as chosen majority floor leader, with Sergio Osmeña of Cebu serving as
Speaker. In 1909 Quezon was appointed resident commissioner to the United
States, representing the Philippines in the U.S. Congress.

Quezon was a skilled politician, but he was known for his temper and
emotional outbursts, accompanied by appropriate Spanish curses and flaring
nostrils. He was notorious for his many and varied love affairs, but he was
passionate and charismatic leader. He married his first cousin, Aurora
Aragon, in 1919, with whom he had three children. Because of his stressful
political life, he contracted tuberculosis which would afflict him throughout
the Commonwealth years and eventually cause his death in 1944.

Quezon adroitly formed a coalition of the two groups and, in the

coming elections, Quezon ran for president while Osmeña ran for vice

The elections for the Commonwealth govt. were scheduled for 18

September 1935, with Quezon all but assured of winning. He had two
challengers for the position. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and Bishop Gregorio
Aglipay, both literally from the pages of the past. Aguinaldo’s veterans of the
revolution organized the Partido Filipinista, while Aglipay’s followers
organized the Republican Party.

In lavish ceremonies the Commonwealth was inaugurated on 15

November 1935. Since this was the first time any power in the world was
preparing its colony for concrete independence, several high-ranking officials
of the U.S. government attended the ceremonies: Vice-President. John N.
Garner, Secretary of War Georger H. Dern; Speaker Joseph W. Byrns of the
U.S. Congress; seventeen and twenty six congressman among others. The
ceremonies were held in front of the legislative building and were witnessed
by around half a million spectators.

Policies of Commonwealth

The Philippine Flag was allowed to be flown, but as a sign that the
Philippines was not yet independent, the U.S. flag had to be flown above it.
All Commonwealth officials and employees had to take their oath of
allegiance to the U.S. before they took their oath of allegiance to the
Commonwealth. Representing the president of the United States, a U.S. high
commissioner replaced the governor-general of the pre-Commonwealth
period. The last governor general, Frank Murphy, became the first high

Quezon had prepared for his responsibilities as president of the

Commonwealth even before it was inaugurated. In early 1935, before the
constitution had been finished and long before he would be elected to office
as president, Quezon outlined an eight point program for the Commonwealth

1. National unity and peace are essential to the preservation of

Philippine independence.

2. A strong national defense organization would have to be formed to

deter foreign invasion

3. The Filipino people should be made to realize their responsibilities in

an independent country, and should be prepared to face it with
fortitude and courage.

4. Taxes would have to paid to support the government, but these

would be levied in proportion to the citizen’s ability to pay.
5. The Philippines would have to become economically self-sufficient.

6. Abuses by high government officials, or by the rich and powerful

few, would not be tolerated.

7. The poor and weak would not be oppressed and government policy
would be to make the poor rich and to provide relief for the needy.

8. Care would have to be exercised in the disposition of natural

resources to powerful corporations in order that they would be
preserved for future generations.

In his inaugural address, Quezon stressed the need to build an armed

force for the defense of the country; the necessity of spreading education to
improve the conditions of the masses and build moral character, personal
discipline, civic conscience, and vocational efficiency; and the urgency of
judicial reform to give the masses access to justice. He emphasized the need
for sound economic policies which would protect labor and settle relations
between labor and capital; a socioeconomic program to benefit the masses;
a strong economy to strengthen the country, an economical, simple and
efficient government organization; and the conservation and careful
development of the country’s natural resources. Quezon saw the main
problems facing the Commonwealth, and had definite ideas on how to solve

There was no time for bickering and disunity; the government should
work as one, following its leader, Quezon. He declared that there would be
more government less politics, and that immediate and decisive action was
needed. By the end of the 6th year, however, war in the Pacific had broken
out and Quezon would not be able to carry out all the dreams he had for the
To carry out his plans for the country, Quezon had seven departments
in the executive branch, and he planned to curtail the powers of the National
Assembly so that it would work more smoothly with the president.

Quezon appointed as first resident commissioner to the U.S. Quintin

Paredes, Speaker of the House of Representatives, just prior to the

Quezon felt that the National Assembly should work together with the
executive branch, rather than serve as an independent check and balance as
in the U.S. Even before the Commonwealth was inaugurated, Quezon had
made clear that he preferred a legislature with a figurehead Speaker, clipped
of the powers the Speaker traditionally held.

National Defense

A major problem the Commonwealth had to face was the

establishment of an army for national defense. If the Philippines became
independent and was unable to protect itself, it would only invite either
powers to take over the country. Thus, a priority was the establishment of an
army. The U.S. had not made any major preparations for a Philippines army
for an independent Philippines, and Quezon had to start from scratch. As
with most of the main issues involving the Commonwealth, Quezon laid the
groundwork for a national defense plan long before Commonwealth was

MacArthur, together with Cols. Dwight Eisenhower and James Ord,

framed a plan wherein a small Philippine regular army would be built up,
based on the Philippine Constabulary, while a sizeable reserve force would
be trained throughout the country.

MacArthur then was named by Quezon the military adviser to the

president. The act made mandatory the registration of all Filipinos males who
reached the age twenty for compulsory military training for a period of five
and a half months. The law marked the introduction of pre-military training in
high school, and the standardization of ROTC programs in colleges and
universities. The rationale for the act was the creation of a small regular
force while large numbers of reserves were trained every year. A small air
crops was also planned, complemented by a smaller naval unit called the
Off-Shore Patrol.

Economic Policies

Ten years was a short time to achieve this; however Under the
Tydings-McDuffie Act, gradual levying of duties would begin in 1941, such
that by 1946, the scheduled date for the independence, duties would be 100
percent. Faced with these problems, Quezon worked on developing and
diversifying local industries, increasing local consumption, improving
transportation and communication, and seeking and other markets, but time
was short, and incentives and funds were lacking. Furthermore, sugar and
tobacco interests the free-trade relationship with the U.S.

Recognizing the gravity of the economic situation, Quezon urged the

National Assembly to pass administrative measure, an act which created the
National Economic Council. Indeed, so urgent was the need to develop a
balance and stable economy that the second act to become the law during
the Commonwealth created Economic Council. This was an advisory body
which would help the president determine economic plans for the nation.

At Quezon’s behest, the National Assembly created the Securities and

Exchange Commission which served to guard the public in checking that only
legal organizations were authorized to sell securities in the stock market.
Furthermore, Quezon and Roosevelt created the Joint Preparatory
Committee on the Philippine Affairs in 1938, to jointly study the economic
problems and recommend solutions. The recommendations were embodied
in a law which amended the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Tydings-Kocialkowski
Act, which extended the time for the phase-out, but limited the Philippines’
duty-free products through quotas.

The deteriorating security situation in Europe and the outbreak of war

in September 1939 further worsened the Philippine economy, since ships
were diverted away from their normal trade routes to Europe. Philippine
exports began to drop, resulting in drops in revenues. As the economic
situation worsened, the future began to look, bleak, and Some Americans
companies began shop in Manila.

Social Justice

A serious problem faced by the Commonwealth was leveling the gap

between social classes in the Philippines. Social imbalances and land
misdistribution caused unrest: On the eve of the Commonwealth, a peasant
group, the Sakdals, a seeking radical reforms and immediate independence,
rebelled against the government in Laguna, resulting in a bloody clash which
left fifty-nine Sakdalistas dead. In Central Luzon were being lured by the
communists and socialist. As the years of the Commonwealth passed,
agrarian and social unrest continued, particularly in Central Luzon where
strikes and labor disturbances occurred.

Quezon worked for the passage of legislation setting a minimum daily

wage initially set at P 1 day, but was later raised P 1.25 and maintained at
P1.00 in the provinces. An eight-hour work day was set, with overtime pay
should laborers be required to work beyond eight-hours. To give labor a
voice, the National Assembly passed legislation providing for the recognition,
definition, and regulation of legitimate labor organizations. Another law
required written contracts between landlords and tenants which served to
protect the working class from unfair and arbitrary rent increases. To solve
labor disputes, a court of industrial relations was established.

Other measures which Quezon urged on the National Assembly were

the creation of the Agricultural and Industrial Bank and farmers’
cooperatives, as well as the opening of homesteads in Mindanao and
elsewhere, which farmers and other settlers could develop.

The government successfully worked to administer the Buenavista

Estate, with the aim of eventually buying the land for ultimate resale to the
tenants. Created to oversee the development of these areas were the
National Land Settlement Administration; and the National Housing
Commission to help provide housing to the people. Quezon also created the
National Relief Administration to coordinate all relief activities by
government and private institutions in cases of natural and other calamities,
and so assistant in finding gainful employment for the unemployed.

Education and Culture

Because of the strong influence of American culture and education.

Quezon sought to develop a stronger Philippine culture. He created the
Institute of National Language to study the issue of choosing a mother
tongue; in 1937 he proclaimed Tagalog the national language and ordered to
have steps taken to spread its use. Though this he sought to develop a
stronger sense of love of country among the youth, as well as to lessen the
gap between the rich and the poor. Quezon organized a National Council of
Education to advice the government of educational policies.

Textbooks and subjects which focused on American history and

presidents, for instance, had to be replaced. He pushed for an adult
education program to reach out to those adults who had not been to go to
schools to ensure quality education; and he gave impetus to developing
vocational schools and removing the stigma of vocational work as opposed
to white-collar jobs. In 1940 the National Assembly passed the Education Act
of 1940 which made compulsory the completion of the four grades in
elementary school.

Government Reform

Quezon sought t reform the government by streamlining it and making

it more efficient, as well as to improve its service to the people. He also saw
the improvement of the government as linked to the social justice program,
especially in the functioning of the courts.

The National Assembly enacted the necessary legislation, creating the

Court of Appeals and the Court of Industrial Relations, and otherwise
streamlining and rationalizing the organizing of the courts.

To standardizing government policies for its personnel, civil service

rules and regulations were made applicable t al government offices, while
the merit system was adopted as the basis for all appointments and
promotions. To provide for the welfare government employees, the
Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) was established.

The first census under Filipino administration was held in 1938, and the
women’s right to vote was formally recognized in a nation plebiscite. The
National Assembly virtually became a rubber stamp for Quezon’s policies
(although it did have its own stand on many issues), and government
appointments were all made with Quezon’s approval or at his behest Quezon
further worked to unite some of the political factions to produce what he
called a “partyless democracy.” As international conditions deteriorated
because of German, Italian, and Japanese militarism and the outbreak of war,
Quezon asked for and was granted emergency powers by the National
Assembly. To some Americans, Quezon was becoming a dictator as
totalitarianism rose in various parts of the world. Quezon defended his
additional powers; by saying emergency conditions were already being felt in
the Philippines, to which Roosevelt acceded.

Quezon worked to establish a “partyless government” and had

succeeded largely by uniting the feuding pros and antis The resultant
coalition-a stronger Nacionalista Party-dominated the government and since
Quezon was titular head of the party was in turn dominated by Quezon. He
demanded total loyalty from all the party members, and did not hesitate to
get even if he was betrayed. Quezon and his chosen candidates won
resoundingly in the polls and his appointees were accepted without so much
question. The opposition to Quezon was weak and disorganized, and did not
pose much of a challenge.

Quezon’s dominance over the legislature was seen in his role in

selecting the Speaker of the assemble; he handpicked the Speaker and
quashed all opposition to facilitate under consultation and liaison with the
legislature. Quezon kept his old offices at the legislative building where party
caucuses could be called for Quezon to explain his views on administration
bills. He later appointed a number of consultants from the executive office to
attend sessions of the National Assembly and iron out technical details.

Foreign Policies

In his inaugural address, Quezon assured that “amity and friendship”,

fairness and the square deal in our relations with other nations and their
citizens and subjects, protections of their legitimate investments and
pursuits, in return for their temporary allegiance to our institutions and laws”
would be Commonwealth government’s policy to foreigners who wished to
live, trade, or otherwise deal with Philippines.

Relations with the U.S. focused manly on resolving trade issues and
the expiration of free trade, and military assistance to the defense plan as
discussed above. Although the Commonwealth was autonomous in almost all
fields, the U.S. government still stood watching over Quezon to ensure that
his actions were consistent with the responsibility, interests and dignity of
the U.S. The U.S. was still sovereign, and could, if it perceived necessary,
take steps to meet is obligations to protect its own interests and those of the
Philippines. In this respect, friction was bound to erupt. This friction,
however, tended to be relatively minor, and the relationship between the two
countries was generally harmonious.

The relationship with the U.S. regarding legislation and reports was
between Quezon and President Roosevelt, but for other matters, it was
between Quezon and the U.S. high commissioner to the Philippines. Quezon
got along with the first two U.S. high commissioners, Frank Murphy and Paul
V. Mcnutt, although the two did not fully agree with all of Quezon’s policies.
The third high commissioner, however, Francis B. Sayre, did not sympathize
with Quezon’s one-man rule and disagreed.

Although under Tydings-McDuffie Act, the foreign relations of the

Philippines remained in the hands of the Americans, Quezon attempted to
establish informal relations with China, Japan and Mexico, preparatory to
establishing official relations after independence. Some of these trips were
not sanctioned by the Americans, in particular Quezon’s second trip to Japan,
which he tried to keep secret, because the Americans felt Quezon was
exceeding is authority. Other problems involved Japanese economic
penetration into the Philippines particularly in Davao, where the Japanese
presence was strong. Japanese fishing boats virtually controlled the deep-sea
fishing industry in the Philippines. These and other problems had to be
worked out, but as Japan embarked on greater militarism national security
loomed as a major problem.

Chinese control over rice and food distribution and sales, for example,
provoked outcries after natural calamities when merchants raised their
prices while controlling supply. This prompted the government to create the
National Rice and Corn Corporation to try to shift the distribution and sale of
rice to the government.

As a result of the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese refugees streamed into

the Philippines, causing fears of greater Chinese control of the economy.

Because of Chinese and Japanese control of the retail trade and the
increasing number of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, the Commonwealth
government sought to control immigration into the Philippines. In 1940 the
National Assembly of the Commonwealth passed an immigration act-an
American immigration expert helped in drafting the bill-which limited
immigration from any country to 500 a year. The Japanese and Chinese
protested and made threats, but an assembly passed the bill anyway. Since
the bill bordered on foreign relations, it had to be sent o resident Roosevelt
who approved the bill.

Amending the Constitution

The 1935 Constitution fixed the term of the president only six years
without reelection. Quezon floated the idea of amending the constitution to
allow for a four-year term with reelection, so that the maximum term for any
one president would be eight years. Quezon also suggested to the National
Assembly that the constitution be amended to create a bicameral legislature
rather than keep the unicameral system.

Elections were held in November 1941 with Quezon running as

president and Osmeña as vice president, together with a select group of
Nacionalistas for senators and representatives. Quezon and Osmeña won
decisive victories, as did the Nacionalista candidates for the Congress. In this
election the introduction of block voting worked to the party’s favor, since
none of the opposition parties had a full slate. There was no time to savor
the victory, however, because war broke out just after the elections.

Quezon and the Approach of War

Before the outbreak of war, Quezon and the Philippines had seen the
start of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937, and then the start of World War II
in Europe in September 1939. The effects of these wars were indirect, but
serious to the Philippines. Ships were diverted from their usual trade routes
and rerouted to bring supplies to the war zones; Philippine exports found it
difficult to get out of the country. In addition, Chinese refugees began
streaming into the Philippines. As conditions rapidly became abnormal, the
National Assembly granted more and more powers to Quezon so that he
might prepare the country to meet the changed conditions without having to
wait for legislative action. Among these powers were negotiation for the
acquisition, management, and operation by the government of public utilities
such as Manila Electric Company, the Philippine Long Distance Company,
Manila Gas Corporation, and other similar companies if the public interest
warranted. Quezon was also granted, for a limited period, the power to take
over any public service or enterprise necessary to meet the emergency, as
well as the power to make temporary appointments to certain public offices.

These great powers prompted some Americans and Quezon’s

opponents to fear the establishment of a dictatorship. But the Philippines
were beginning to find itself in very serious conditions, and immediate
emergency action was necessary for the Philippines to meet the challenges.

Using his emergency powers, Quezon created the Civilian Emergency

Administration (CEA) in April 1941. The CEA was meant to provide military
security. The CEA began building stocks of food and medicines held air raid
drills, and tools other steps t prepare the Philippines for war.

President Roosevelt called the organized military forces of the

Commonwealth the service of the U.S. and created a joint U.S. Philippine-
military force designated as the United States Army Forces (USAFFE).
General McArthur was named commanding general and Filipino reservists
were mobilized and given refresher training, as reinforcements from the U.S.
began to be sent to the Philippines.


The presidency of Manuel L. Quezon was a crucial one, since it was

supposed to reorient the Philippines from a colony to an independent state in
ten years. Not all his plans were successful, however. Relations with the
Muslims were always strained, influenced by Quezon’s mistrust of the
Muslim. The national defense plan was expensive experiment which proved
flawed. Quezon placed too much faith in MacArthur to see the defects of the
plan. The social reform agenda was curtailed by lack of funds, and land
reform was blocked by other interest groups. Economic diversification also
saw only limited success,- the sugar bloc and other traditional agricultural
export groups were strong and reluctant to change. Funding remained a
problem throughout the Commonwealth.

Perhaps if the Commonwealth had been given its full ten-year

transition period, major economic and social changes could have been
effected. As it was the Commonwealth did not have ten full years. After only
two years, war erupted in China and two years later, in Europe. The wars
created an atmosphere of uncertainty, disrupted international shipping and
shifted from planning for independence to simply meeting the emergency
conditions which had arisen from the wars. In the end the Commonwealth of
the Philippines was engulfed by World War II, and all its plans were thrown in

Still, Quezon’s administration did lay down the foundations of today’s

Philippines. Many of the acts passed-such as the National Defense Act-are
still functioning, although suitably amended to reflect the changing times.
Many government agencies which were created during the Commonwealth
still serve the purposes for which they were established. Physically, the
buildings and city plans laid out during the Commonwealth are still in use.
Quezon’s role in the development of the Philippines was a crucial one.
He played a leading role in quest for independence from the Americans; led
the Commonwealth towards independence; and prepared the country to face
the war which unhappily destroyed many of the Commonwealth’s gains.