You are on page 1of 8

TODAY’s Weekender


Repulsion and Colonization
by Manuel L. Quezon III

The Wood-Forbes Mission arrived in Manila in May [1921], and
was received with some apprehension....

Many anecdotes were told about this trip...

In Mindanao, an officer with the Mission approached a Moro and
asked him his opinion of the political situation. The Moro answered him:
“No, no, I do not want to say a word. If I say I like independence, the
Americans get sore. And if I say I do not like independence, the Filipinos
get sore. I say nothing.”

Teodoro M. Kalaw
in his autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom

THE scene was dramatic. The session hall of the Constitutional
Convention, decorated with Filipino and American flags, was brightly lit
with klieg lights. The hall itself was filled to capacity. Microphones were
conspicuous, as the event that was about to take place was going to be
broadcast over the radio. The date was February 19, 1935.

At thirty-five minutes past three in the afternoon, a portly
gentleman wearing a bow tie stood up at the Speaker’s rostrum and
banged a gavel, signifying the opening of the Convention’s last session.
The portly gentleman was the President of the Convention, Claro M.
Recto. Beside him was Quintin Paredes; they were soon joined by
Manuel A. Roxas. The Secretary of the Convention then began calling
upon the delegates to sign. Recto signed first. One delegate, Gregorio
Perfecto of Manila, who was recovering from a paralytic attack, limped
up to the Secretary’s table to sign the official copies -in English and
Spanish- of the new Constitution. Perfecto was assisted by one of his
daughters, and signed the documents with his own blood. Another
delegate, Jose Zurbito of Masbate, had been ill for months but managed
to show up. The other delegates signed with special gold pens or pens
of historical significance. Only one delegate did not sign.

Tomas Cabili, delegate from Lanao, did not sign the 1935
Constitution because he did not vote in favor of it -the only delegate to
vote “No,” in fact. During the Convention he had worked for Mindanao
to have the right to vote for its own representatives, which up to then
had been appointed by the Governor-General of the Philippines.
According to Delegate Jose Aruego, who later wrote the definitive
account of the Convention, Cabili was convinced that “the province of
Lanao -except Sulu and Cotobato- should have been permitted by
constitutional provision to have its... representatives elected by the
direct vote of the people” (a curious statement; did this mean Cabili was
only primarily concerned with Lanao and did not think that Sulu and
Cotobato were worthy of electing their own Assemblymen?). Aruego
pointed out that,

“Partly because of his efforts, the Constitution as approved by the
Convention, on second reading, included a provision permitting all
legislators from the island [of Mindanao] to be elected by the direct vote
of the people. The Special Committee on Style, however... so amended
the Constitution that the representatives of Lanao, together with those
from the Mountain Province, Sulu, and Cotobato, should be selected in a
manner to be determined by law. Delegate Cabili fought hard in the
closing days of the Convention to give the people of Lanao the right to
[vote] but his efforts were in vain.”

And so it was that when the 1935 Constitution was presented to
the Philippines’ (still quite limited number of) voters, one of the three
major groups to oppose the ratification of the Constitution were the
leaders from Lanao, Cotobato, and Sulu -although what percentage
they represented of the 44,963 who actually voted against the charter
is anybody’s guess.

Here was the Philippines, at the threshold of independence, soon
to be free from the colonial yoke of the Americans, and the leaders of
this soon-to-be independent state was already laying the foundations
for a new kind of colonialism. What an ironic state of affairs; for even as
the majority of Filipino leaders exulted over their having finally secured
local autonomy and guaranteed independence, they made sure that
those very same things would be denied the Muslims in Mindanao. The
Commonwealth of the Philippines was about to embark on internal
colonialism -or colonization. The attitude of the leaders of the new
Commonwealth was very clearly expressed by the new Chief Executive
who wrote in his autobiography (The Good Fight )that,

“In the southern provinces, the most important question of all was
the future of Mindanao... which for ages past had been under the Moros.
They had never been subdued by the Spanish and were never disarmed
by them...
“The American Army officers used alternately to fight the Moros
and then to ‘baby’ them. The Moros are very artful and seldom agreed
to any proposition made to them on the part of the Government except
with feigned reluctance, and only in a manner calculated to put the
executive under an obligation. I felt that this method on their part was
only bluff, and I now addressed them on various occasions with straight-
from-the shoulder declarations. This new method of handling them
seemed to work excellently... we are glad to see them at length
gradually settling into modern ways.”

Sovereignty over Mindanao had been negotiated -and then
enforced, through the invention of the .45 caliber revolver, among other
things- by the Americans during several campaigns distinct from the
war which had destroyed the First Philippine Republic. Major General
Elwell Otis, commander of the US Army forces quelling the “Philippine
insurrection,” had ordered General John C. Bates to negotiate a treaty
with Sultan Jamalul Kiram of Jolo, which he did, successfully. What came
to be called the Bates Treaty was signed on August 20, 1899. The
Americans’ English text read that “The sovereignty of the United States
over the whole archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and
acknowledged,” while the “rights and dignities of His Highness the
Sultan and his datos shall be fully respected,” and that the Americans
would not interfere “on account of their religion.” Problems arose when
it turned out that the Tausug version of the treaty had not relinquished
the Sultan’s sovereignty.

Eventually when the Americans began exercising what they felt to
be their sovereignty -by establishing the “Moro Province” in 1903
among other things- there was war, which added luster to the careers
of military men like Leonard Wood and John Pershing, and which
resulted in several bloody campaigns which culminated in the Muslims
finally accepting American sovereignty in 1915 (the Carpenter-Kiram

While all of this was going on, of course, Filipinos could only fret
over what they felt might turn out into a separate accommodation with
the Moros. Teodoro M. Kalaw, for example, filed a bill in the Philippine
Assembly in 1910 which “disapproved the dismemberment of Philippine
territory until such a time as the American Congress could define the
real political status of the Philippines” -at a time when there had already
been four major Muslim uprisings.

The fear, that the Americans would dispose of Mindanao as they
pleased since they had waged a separate campaign to subdue it,
expressed so early on during the American regime by Kalaw, refused to
go away -it actually increased as time went by, particularly during the
term of that old Moro-subduer, Leonard Wood, as Governor-General of
the Philippines. Even as Filipino officials had a fit over Wood’s
thoroughly Republican plan to “run the government out of business,”
Kalaw wrote that “There was also talk of separating from the Philippine
archipelago the island of Mindanao, and subsequently Americanizing it.”
The American chamber of commerce of Mindanao and Sulu had even
sent a telegram to President Calvin Coolidge proposing Mindanao’s
conversion to an unorganized territory under the American flag.

Matters came to a head when a Republican Congressman, Robert
L. Bacon, filed a bill in the US. Congress (H.R. 12772, June 11, 1926),
which sought to separate Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan from the
jurisdiction of the Philippine Government, establishing a separate and
distinct form of government in those areas directly under American
sovereignty. The first bill lapsed, and King filed it during the next
session. justifying it on the grounds that,

“1....the Moros are essentially a different race from the Filipinos,
that for hundreds of years there has existed bitter racial and religious
hatred between the two and that complete union of the Filipinos under
one government is distasteful to the Moros, who would prefer a
continuance of American sovereignty;

“2. The terms of.. the Bates Treaty...

“3. The lack of true representation on the part of the Moros in the
Philippine Legislature, their judges, prosecutors and Constabulary being
at the present time Filipinos, in contrast to conditions existing prior to

“4. ...[E]specially since 1916, ill feelings between Moros and
Filipinos has increased, leading to frequent conflicts and bloodshed.”

Mass meetings were held in Manila to denounce the Bacon Bill.
The Philippine Legislature condemned the bill; even General Aguinaldo,
still in retirement, sent a telegram to Coolidge asking him to reject the
Bill. The brouhaha died down, but King’s justification for his bill would
rankle in the memory of Filipino leaders.

Hence the conviction of the leaders in the 1930s that the Muslims
had to be dealt with firmly, if the interests of the nation they were
building were to prevail. This was, at best, a confrontational attitude:
“us” against “them.” The Muslims (or rather their leaders, this was the
time, after all, when political affairs was still firmly in the hands of
leaders who were only responsible to a limited electorate) were viewed
as half-savage children who needed firm disciplining and tutelage
-concepts which used to irritate Filipino leaders when they had begun to
agitate for autonomy.

But first, back to the policies of the Philippine government, now
that it was mainly in the hands of Filipinos. Quezon went on to explain in
his book that,

“...there existed an international aspect of the Mindanao question,
of profound importance to the Filipino nation. Unless we fully opened
up, protected and settled, and thus made use of this great, rich, only
partly developed island, some other nation might some day try to move
in and make it their own. For the past twenty years, continued and
successful efforts to colonize Mindanao from the north have been
undertaken. The modern Filipino is not afraid of his kinsmen, the Moros.
Settlers from the north have poured into the rich valley of the Cotobato.
I asked General Paulino Santos to take charge of the new colony at
Caronadal near Davao, which he did with conspicuous success.
Secretary Rafael Alunan in the Cabinet was given supervision over all
colonization affairs...”

So it was very clearly spelled out from the very start -colonization
, the genesis of what would come to be called “Manila imperialism.” The
international aspect of the “Mindanao question” would be confirmed
soon enough when a controversy arose over the growing number of
Japanese settlers in Mindanao in the late 1930s. Eventually the National
Assembly would pass the Immigration Act of 1940 (still in force), to the
outrage of the Japanese who complained that it was aimed specifically
against them. The Philippine government, the Japanese foreign ministry
suspected, even welcomed Jewish refugees from Germany (who were
urged to settle in Mindanao) to counterbalance the growing presence of
Japanese companies in Mindanao’s economy.

Of course once in power, leaders and policy makers usually reveal
that they are incapable of appreciating ironies. They saw no
contradiction between the rhetoric they had been repeating for twenty
years -that the Filipino people were willing, ready, and able to assume
responsibility for themselves- and their policy of refusing to extend the
rights they enjoyed to minorities. Filipino leaders were genuinely
concerned about Mindanao and began efforts to spur development -but
only to relieve agrarian tensions elsewhere in the country (by fostering
migration), allow the utilization of its natural resources, and most of all,
to guarantee the integrity of the state they headed. The interests of
their “kinsmen” was not considered at all.

Or to be more accurate, Muslim affairs were viewed within the
context of how they could best be manipulated to the advantage of the
new government (after all, the Muslims and their leaders at worst could
be viewed as having handicapped the Filipino effort to convince the
Americans that they were a homogeneous people desirous of home
rule). I think this point better illustrates the Commonwealth
government’s reaction to the succession crisis that arose in the
Sultanate of Sulu.

Arnold Molina Azurin, in his essay, “City versus Ethnicity.”
mentions, as an example of Quezonian egomania, that,

“Quezon was influencing the 1934 Constitutional Assembly to
erode the traditional and historic powers of the Sultan of Sulu because
he could not bear having another citizen exercising dominion over
another territory, that of North Borneo. So, while the area south of
Mindanao was incorporated by that Assembly as part of the national
domain, the Sultanate’s claim of dominion was ignored -and thus was
that vast and rich territory opened to foreign intervention and control,
mainly on account of the egomania of the Nacionalista power-wielder in
Malacanang who could not live with the prospect of having another ruler
in his ethnic domains.”

Mr. Azurin is referring, of course, to the definition of Philippine
territory in the 1935 Constitution, as delineated in the Treaty of Paris
and a treaty between the US and England “on the second day of
January, nineteen hundred and thirty,” his point being that the framers
of the 1935 Constitution chose to accept the definition of the territory of
the Philippines made by the colonial powers which ruled the Philippines
and had interests in North Borneo; his point hinges on whether this was
done deliberately, knowing the Sultan’s claim to Sabah, or if it was done
in ignorance of the claim -not only that, it depends on whether it would
have been prudent to question the colonial arrangements through a
provision in a Constitution that had to be approved by the one of the
powers in question. After all, after independence, the Sabah subject was
brought up (that old reliable Francis Burton Harrison was hired as a
government consultant in the matter; British Foreign Office official was
said to have sneered that the claim a rather cheeky one for a newly-
independent colony to make).

It is more useful to attribute what Mr. Azurin described to the
conviction among Filipino leaders like Quezon that the Muslims were not
to be trusted, which may or may not betray an egotistical attitude.
Quezon, after all, refused to recognize a successor to the Sultan of Sulu
when the last Sultan died during his term, an act which has
repercussions to the present, as the heirs of the Sultan have continued
quarreling among themselves, allowing Philippine presidents to favor
one faction or another. This is, I would think, the origin of the state of
affairs which has led Presidents of the Republic to become the
attorneys, so to speak, for the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, as happened
under Marcos -meaning that Filipino leaders did seek to eliminate the
influence of the Sultanate out of mere pique; it was deliberately done to
neutralize what was perceived to be a threat to (in today’s parlance)
“national security.”

The end result can all the more be seen as internal colonialism.
Flooding Mindanao with Christian settlers -the way Americans flooded
the Midwest in the US- became one of the most effective ways of
ensuring that the island would stay in the hands of the Republic. By the
1950s, Muslim leaders like Domicao Alonto had become familiar fixtures
in national politics, but still the leader from Mindanao who would rise
the highest prior to the Marcos years was Emmanuel Pelaez, a Christian.
The gradual extension of voting and other rights to the Muslims was
accompanied by the gradual rise of Muslim politicians who played the
game, Manila-style, or at least in the fashion adopted by provincial
Christian warlords who had private armies; the supreme example of this
new breed of Muslim leader was -is- Muhamed Ali Dimaporo.

The leaders who played politics Christian-style, whether those
from the old ruling families or people like Dimaporo, represent a partial
success for the colonial-style policies of Filipino leaders. Equivalent of
the success with which the Americans got Filipino leaders to play politics
American-style; the thing is that this style of co-optation may have been
suited to first half of the twentieth but has begun to display serious
limitations over the past thirty years. Just as the traditional means of
keeping political power were challenged by the Student Movement and
an increasing number of politicized “outsiders” (or outright rebels from
the establishment) so did the Muslim leaders discover that their old-
style patronage politics failed to satisfy people like Nur Misuari.

Nonetheless, Filipino politicians are if nothing else, a durable
and adaptive lot, and as they have managed to survive and even
flourish in the air of post-Marcos democracy, so has the Philippine
government discovered that old tricks may be resorted to again. This is
what we see happening in Mindanao now. Even as some members of the
military establishment remain convinced that the only way to end the
“Mindanao problem” will take a “Final Solution” (whatever the term may
mean, and I suspect it means something grisly), other military men are
content to bargain with the Muslims while also preparing for a final
conflict if it becomes necessary. At the same time, in true colonial
fashion, the Christian majority in Mindanao, or at least the political
leaders thereof, yell appeasement and sell-out: or at least they did until
Nur Misuari suddenly displayed behavior that was quite recognizably in
traditional Filipino political style; then all of a sudden the shrill cries
subsided, becoming constant grumbling instead.

It may yet turn out that in one fell stroke the current (Ramos)
Administration has achieved something that was half-heartedly
attempted before: the co-optation of Muslim leaders by making them
“one of the boys” politically, with access to patronage and pork barrel
funds. This time, the government has gone all-out and decided to give
everyone a share of the loot, in the hope that this attempt to share the
wealth will make everyone, Christian and Muslim alike, happy.

Which will lead to the greatest irony of all -the achievement of
Muslim integration into the body politic because of the lure of pork.
Barrel, that is. Which doesn’t mean that in the end, this will still
represent another colonial success story -all the more sweet because
it’s home-grown colonization.