FILIPINO APPEAL FOR FREEDOM. Doc. No. 511. 67th Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1923.

SINCE the policies adopted by the United States for the government of the Philippines liffer in so many essentials from those of other colonial nations, it is not surprising that the existing sharp conflict between Governor-General Wood and the Philippine Legislature is exciting great interest in many countries. It is being watched by the native leaders in India and Java, in China and Japan, and by European administrators throughout the Orient. The ultimate decision as to American policy cannot fail to influence profoundly the whole future of Asia.

Our administration so far has been characterized by continued changes in our method of government. The result has been constant friction between Americans and Filipinos, and a growing dissatisfaction on the part of the latter who are becoming more and more insistent in their demands for immediate independence. So strong has this feeling become that former Governor-General Harrison says in "The Cornerstone of Philippine Independence" that almost certainly active insurrection in the Philippines will result from continued disregard of their aspirations. Recent news items from Manila show that other Americans share his views. Though this attitude may be too pessimistic, both Filipino leaders and Americans engaged in business in the Islands unite in urging the American Government to come to some definite decision as to its policy.

This statement must not be construed as indicating that American residents in general advocate setting any date for actual independence. A reluctance to do so exists not only on the part of business men, who might be influenced by selfish motives, but also on the part of government officials and educators in sympathy with Filipino aspirations. There is very grave doubt whether the country is able as yet, economically and politically, to maintain complete independence.

For an impartial observer to form an intelligent opinion on the Philippine question is exceedingly difficult. The majority of writers on the subject are either ardently pro-Filipino or violently anti-Filipino. Allegations advanced by one side are fiercely denied by the other; statements are made based upon inadequate investigation; arguments are ignored or evaded; and half truths are so cleverly distorted that it is difficult to refute the conclusions drawn without painstaking study on the spot. Moreover, in the last few years no really authoritative book has appeared on the American side of the question and practically all recent literature is the result of extensive propaganda in favor of immediate independence,--propaganda paid for from considerable sums appropriated by the Philippine Legislature and conducted largely by the Philippine Press Bureau in Washington.

This partisanship is highly regrettable, for it is important that American public opinion should be correctly informed. The Filipinos are determined not to stop their agitation until their desires have been gratified, and many of the carefully selected statements made by their leaders are so well founded and conform so closely to American political ideals that it is difficult to controvert them. C. E. Russell and M. M. Kalaw present the Filipino case very cleverly. Mr. Harrison's book contains some really valuable material, though both he and Mr. Russell have not always been careful to verify their statements. In the present article an attempt will be made to outline both sides of the question.

Perhaps one of the principal reasons for sharp differences of opinion is that certain assumptions, regarding which there is no possible agreement, underlie many of the arguments of those advocating immediate independence. They say that all men, including the Filipinos, are at birth endowed with the ability to operate successfully a modern, democratic, representative government, and that there are no differences of character, aptitude or ability between races. This is the point of view of Mr. Harrison, who says that he believes all men are created equal, that their inequality "comes from their training and education, not from their physical birth," and that "failures to attain a moderate level of civilization are due to lack of opportunity, or to the selfishness, rapacity, egotism, bigotry or superstition of others." In defense of his administration, during which he was particularly blamed for giving the Filipino politicians full control of the executive as well as of the legislative branches of the government, he says that he has been true to these principles. His theory is that the only way to learn to govern is to govern, and that he is not to blame for Filipino failures.

While such ideas are popular, they leave out of account the fact that in the last eight thousand years there has never been in Asia even a creditable attempt to establish democracies like those of Greece and Rome, not to mention those of the last two hundred years in Europe and America. Also, the Asiatic temperament seems, at present, unsuited to such a form of government, and it will probably take some time to educate the masses of the Orient sufficiently to make democracies successful. It is much to the credit of the leaders of the Filipinos that they have done as well as they have, without traditions of democracy or experience in the administration of a modern state.

But granting that such traditions and experience may not be essential, the illiteracy of the people makes it difficult to believe that a really democratic, representative government is possible at present in the Philippines. Only about 37 percent of the Filipinos can read and write in any language, and less than 14 percent have received instruction above the primary grade. The majority of the 20,000 Filipino teachers have had only intermediate school training, and their experience in teaching and general education is so slight as to make it almost impossible for them to educate intelligent citizens. Of the 10,956,730 inhabitants, only 672,122 voted at the last election, as the suffrage is limited by sex, educational, and property qualifications. A significant fact in this connection is that in 1920 the forty-five daily newspapers published in various languages had a total circulation of 131,400, and the sixty-nine weekly and other publications a total of 195,700. This means that the masses must be totally uninformed upon public questions, and must therefore be under the domination of a small oligarchy of educated men.

It is estimated, in fact, that there are only about 10,000 Filipinos really influential in business and politics. Although many of them are intelligent, cultivated and able men, like those who have come to the United States, history has shown that it is not safe to deliver ignorant millions to the uncontrolled domination of any group. The danger is especially great in the Islands, as the masses have been for centuries under the sway of caciques--members of rich and powerful families, landowners, money lenders, and politicians,--who have often exploited them and reduced those in debt to a state of peonage. The people as a whole are intellectually children, and for the present need sympathetic and intelligent guardianship. This is one of the principal arguments against the immediate granting of independence, through it must be admitted that an answer seems found to it in the marvelously successful movement for education now being carried on by Filipinos in a manner above praise.


The Filipinos positively decline to discuss the question from the general point of view just described. They simply demand fulfilment of the promise in the preamble of the Jones Act: "Whereas, it is, as it has always been, the purpose of the people of the United States to withdraw their sovereignty over the Philippine Islands and to recognize their independence as soon as a stable government can be established therein." They claim that they have complied with the only condition demanded, and in support of their contention cite the statement in President Wilson's message to Congress of December, 1920: "The people of the Philippine Islands have succeeded in maintaining a stable government since the last action of the Congress in their behalf and have thus fulfilled the condition set by the Congress as precedent to the consideration of granting independence to the Islands. I respectfully submit that this condition precedent having been fulfilled, it is now our liberty and our duty to keep our promise to the people of those Islands by granting them the independence which they so honorably covet." The Filipinos also base their demands upon the statement in the Declaration of Independence that just government can only exist by the consent of the governed, and that all men have an inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They also certainly have reason to believe that independence was promised to General Aguinaldo before the Americans captured Manila with his assistance, and that similar assurances were given by Presidents Taft and Roosevelt, as well as by many other officials.

Some Americans are inclined to be astonished, grieved, and a little exasperated to find that the Filipinos persistently, and at most embarrassing moments (as during the Peace Conference at Paris), demand the fulfilment of our pledges. Americans have a tendency, too, to accuse them of ingratitude and of failure to appreciate the material benefits which we admittedly have conferred upon them. Since even their strongest advocates admit that the Filipinos have had nearly complete self-government since the passage of the Jones Act in 1916, and, further, that "there is no complaint of abridged freedom, no suggestion of oppression, no outcry against government by force," it is difficult for some to understand the reason back of their incessant demand for immediate independence, which,--in spite of statements to the contrary,--is undoubtedly almost unanimous.

The explanation is that the present system is founded upon the premise of racial inferiority and incompetence. We have driven the Filipinos to press for the independence which we refuse to give them, even after they feel that they have complied with our conditions. No proud, sensitive, patriotic and high-spirited people could possibly do otherwise. We should do the same under similar circumstances. Their astonishing progress in the last twenty-five years entitles them to a sympathetic consideration of their aspirations. Any impartial consideration of their arguments leads to the belief that, from a strictly legal standpoint, the Filipinos have proved their case, and that the question is now whether they have established a "stable government."


For some time there has been a strong feeling among those most interested in the situation that the complete management by the Filipinos of finances, public works, sanitation, schools, constabulary, and other governmental activities, as well as their administration of justice, has been so much less efficient than when these branches of government were under American control that a change is really imperative. In order to secure reliable information on this disputed subject, President Harding sent former Governor-General W. Cameron Forbes and Major-General Leonard Wood to make an investigation. Their Report of October 8, 1921, was unfavorable to immediate independence, on the grounds that the government was not reasonably free from those elements which result in the destruction of government; that the efficiency of the public services had fallen off, due to lack of inspection and to the too rapid transfer of control to officials who had not had the proper training; and that the people were not organized economically or from the standpoint of national defense to maintain an independent government. They therefore recommended that the existing status of the Islands be continued until the people had had time to master and coördinate the powers already in their hands.

Many former residents of the Islands felt that this report was too favorable to the Filipino administration, while for their part the Filipinos claimed that it was outrageously unfair. It was certainly painstaking, as the mission spent four months in the Islands and held conferences with the inhabitants of 449 cities and towns and accumulated a large volume of testimony, mostly from Filipino sources. Subsequent events have proved that most of the facts are substantially as stated, though there is sharp disagreement on conclusions and recommendations.

Most of those who have had experience in governing Asiatic peoples are quite willing to admit that it is not absolutely essential to have the administration carried on according to the standards of the Occident. It is even claimed that Orientals much prefer native methods, which are perhaps better adapted to local customs and interfere less with the private life of individuals. The inefficiency which Filipino control produced in the bureaus of education, forestry, public works, civil service, science, and other similar activities, even if very considerably increased, would not have prevented the government from continuing to be reasonably satisfactory to the people, nor have impaired its stability. Hence criticism along these lines is relatively unimportant.

Orientals, however, like other men, resent injustice and oppression, and the mission found that there was "a disquieting lack of confidence in the administration of justice, to an extent which constituted a menace to the stability of the government." This was caused by the appointment of unfit nominees as judges of the lower courts, clerks of court, and prosecuting attorneys. The dockets were clogged, many abuses went unchecked, and the members of the mission believed that judicial proceedings were used oppressively. They also felt that there was "a widespread feeling among the people that political, family and other influences have undue weight in determining causes." The Supreme Court, however, containing a number of experienced Americans, maintained its excellent reputation. This finding of the mission has caused considerable agitation among the Filipinos, and they have attempted to disprove its validity by showing that while the Supreme Court reversed 25.1 percent of the appealed cases in 1911-13 under Governor-General Forbes, it reversed only 20.8 percent under the Filipino administration in 1919-21. It must be remembered, however, that the majority of cases in which injustice is likely to occur are among litigants who cannot afford to appeal. Many Filipinos are convinced that the lower courts are the most vulnerable part of the Filipino administration.

The health of the country is not only important to its inhabitants, but is an international matter. The report stated that there had been a steady increase in preventable diseases, especially typhoid, malaria, beri beri, and tuberculosis; that the former excellent health service had greatly deteriorated, and that the appropriations for sanitary work and medicines were insufficient. Other authorities have asserted that the failure to take necessary measures to prevent smallpox, cholera, plague, and other diseases might render the Islands an international danger.

A third matter for consideration is the financial situation. It is quite evident that no small state can permanently maintain its independence if its finances are unsound, and the investigations of the mission showed that the Philippine National Bank was practically bankrupt under Filipino management. The Insular Treasury placed in the Bank not only its current balances (the provincial and municipal governments were by law obliged to do the same), but also reserves and trust funds, including the $41,500,000 held for the redemption of the currency and the gold exchange fund previously deposited in banks in the United States. Filipinos without banking experience were appointed President and Directors, and, according to the report, they proceeded to loan out the funds "to speculative concerns under circumstances which have led to grave doubt as to the good faith of the transactions." Even the report does not reveal the whole truth, and it was not until August 18, 1923, that General Wood gave to the press his message to the Legislature, dated February 16, which the leaders of the Legislature had declined to communicate to the members. The message showed that in six years the Bank had lost $37,345,500, that there were no reserves behind its $40,837,500 in deposits, and that it was impossible for it to redeem, as required by law, its $15,379,000 of circulating notes.

The report, like most of the current articles on the subject, fails to bring out clearly the well known fact that no government can be considered permanently stable when the resources of the country are in the hands of foreigners. There are very few important Filipino merchants. The retail business is largely in the hands of Chinese, while the wholesale trade, both imports and exports, as well as the banking, is carried on by Americans, British, and various European nationalities. It is illuminating to find that in 1920 out of 9,519 persons who rendered income tax returns 1,434 were Americans, 3,123 were Chinese, 1,295 other foreigners, and only 3,667 Filipinos. In 1921 out of a total population of 10,956,000 about 6,931 were Americans, 55,212 Chinese, 4,271 Spaniards, 1,202 British, 12,636 Japanese, and 2,893 other foreigners.

The fundamental factor in this situation, rarely discussed by either group of partisans in the independence question, is that the Islands are almost purely agricultural and are not economically self-sustaining. There are very few industries (none of any size except sugar centrals, oil mills and tobacco factories) and the labor available is insufficient to operate industrial plants on an extensive scale or even to develop agricultural and mineral resources. Local capital, moreover, is entirely inadequate, and wealthy Filipinos until recently have put their money almost exclusively into land. Industrial investment has been discouraged, due to the belief that capitalists would bring pressure to prevent the grant of independence as being dangerous to their interests. No charters have been granted without a provision to prevent corporation officers from opposing independence, and taxation and other legislation are designed with the same end in view.

The Filipinos are blind to the historical fact that a country rich in agricultural and mineral resources, but without industries or capital and financially unable to maintain an army for its defense, is inevitably doomed to exploitation by outsiders. The temptation to grant concessions, were the Islands independent, would be too great to be resisted. The opponents of independence often insinuate that a hunger for the opportunities for graft incident to granting concessions forms the real reason why the politicians are so insistent upon immediate independence.


A Filipino Parliamentary Mission was sent to Washington soon after President Harding assumed office to request that steps be taken to carry out the recommendations of President Wilson. After careful consideration of the subject President Harding replied: "It is fair to assume that our only difference relates to the time of independence,--you crave it now, and I do not believe the time has arrived for the final decision." Major-General Wood was then sent out as Governor-General to put the finances of the Islands on a sound basis and to restore former efficiency. Conflicts soon developed upon constitutional issues, the Filipino cabinet members all resigned, and the administration has since been carried on by under-secretaries. Both houses of the Legislature have refused to coöperate with the Governor-General, and the Nacionalista and Collectivista parties demand his recall.

The immediate issue is a fundamental one, not a mere clash of individuals. The Jones Act deliberately established a government on the American plan, with the executive power consisting of department chiefs responsible to the Governor-General who represented the sovereignty of the United States. The Filipino Legislature, with the assent of Governor-General Harrison, subsequently passed laws which transformed the system into one on the British model, under which the executive is responsible to the Legislature and the authority of the Governor-General is purely nominal. The executive authority was actually vested in a Council of State, not recognized by law, consisting of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives (rival leaders of the two dominant parties) and the Cabinet members. This secured harmony between the executive and the legislative branches of the government, and worked in a manner satisfactory to the Filipinos. It is therefore entitled to sympathetic consideration even though not yet sanctioned by Congress.

General Wood undoubtedly tried to coöperate with the Legislature, but a collision was inevitable. He felt it his duty in order to remedy the financial chaos and to restore administrative efficiency to assert the prerogatives given him by Act of Congress. The Filipinos claim that he is bound by the laws passed by the Legislature and approved by his predecessor, and that he has no authority to declare them unconstitutional or to refuse to execute them. This right, they say, is legally vested in the courts, in the President and in Congress. They also assert that the Preamble of the Jones Act shows that it was intended that they should have practically complete self-government, and that the Governor-General should intervene only in matters affecting the interests of the United States. The dispute was referred to Secretary of War Weeks, who under the authority of the President forwarded a message to General Wood supporting his conduct. But the conflict still continues, and it is more than ever necessary that some solution should be discovered.


Any plan of coöperation between the Filipinos and the representatives of the United States must be based on the fact that it is not feasible to take from the Filipinos any portion of the self-government which they now enjoy, regardless of the legality of such a proceeding. To do so would be possible only by the employment of force, which is unthinkable. Further, the United States is committed to accord them an increasing measure of self-government, though no definite promises have been made as to the time when this shall be granted.

To meet the situation it might perhaps be advisable to gratify Filipino aspirations by transforming the Islands into a "Philippine Commonwealth," similar in many ways to Australia and Canada. Foreign affairs should continue to be managed by the United States, but the Islands could have a flag and a citizenship of their own. This would be a tangible manifestation of the sincerity of our ultimate purpose, and would allay a certain amount of exasperation and suspicion. While the Governor-General must, for the present, continue to be an American, Filipinos might be eligible for appointment to the post of Vice Governor-General. This position should rank second in the Philippine Government and the incumbent should be authorized to perform the duties of Governor-General during the absence or inability of the latter, "unless the President shall designate some other person to exercise the powers of the Governor-General temporarily." A tactful Governor-General would gratify the Filipinos immensely by affording frequent opportunities for a Filipino to preside in the historic palace of Malacanan. (Former Secretary of the Interior Rafael Palma could fill the position with success, and he could be relied upon not to jeopardize American interests.) The existing Council of State could be legalized, the Cabinet could be made responsible to the Legislature under the Secretary of the Interior as Premier, and the Governor-General could be empowered to order new elections upon the advice of the Council of State. Other changes could be made to cause the system to be satisfactory to the Filipinos. While the Governor-General should retain a veto, it might be understood that it would not be exercised in minor domestic matters, although there should not be any implied restrictions upon the powers of the Governor-General where foreign affairs, the interests of Americans or non-Christians, and the finances or health of the Islands are concerned. On the other hand, proper safe-guards should be arranged against excessive exercise of the powers of the Governor-General, and the Filipinos might be consulted in making appointments to this office in order to ensure that no one personally obnoxious to them should be selected or retained.

Legislation making these extreme concessions should not be mandatory, but should authorize the President of the United States to put them into effect from time to time as he considered advisable. This would give the Filipinos an incentive to maintain efficient government. It should further be made clear to them that they were expected to demonstrate to the world that the confidence placed in them was justified, and that inefficiency or financial scandals would be considered sufficient grounds for deferring further steps toward complete independence.

In order to increase the efficiency of the administration and to train Filipinos to operate it, a definite and permanent policy should be adopted of employing thoroughly qualified American technical experts, following the course which has been so successful in Japan. At least one should be assigned to each department and the more important bureaus, and it should be agreed that their advice should be followed. The contracts with these advisers should be for a specified number of years, and should be discontinued when Filipinos had been taught to replace them. As a preliminary the Philippine National Bank should be divorced from politics, and its charter should be amended so as to ensure that its control would be vested permanently in American officials with extensive banking experience. It should not be permitted to make loans on securities which are not readily convertible into cash, and it should be examined regularly by American bank examiners. Adequate safeguards should be provided for the currency and exchange funds. The Manila Railroad and the other business enterprises of the government should be placed in the hands of qualified American experts, free from political interference. An American president with a competent staff of professors should be placed in charge of the University of the Philippines for at least a generation.

After all these reforms have been put into successful operation, a law should be passed providing for a plebiscite of all adult men and women, under American supervision at the polls, to decide between complete independence or a continuance of the American connection under conditions mutually agreed upon. The first condition to be satisfied before holding the plebiscite should be a 90 percent literacy in English among the entire population, with a reasonable amount of adequate secondary and higher instruction. This would postpone independence until the rising generation of young men with American training and standards of conduct had come into control. Moreover, it is difficult for a nation to exist without a common language, and there are now eight languages spoken by not less than 500,000 people each, besides some seventy used by smaller groups. More persons now speak English than ever spoke Spanish, but Spanish is still the language of the educated classes and government circles.

Among the other rights and duties given the Filipinos should be included the ability to provide for their national defense. This is essential, in spite of the fact that the Filipinos believe that the United States would grant independence with a protectorate, abandoning all internal control and at the same time assuming all international responsibilities.

If the Filipinos were once convinced that we really meant to treat them fairly, that we would no longer evade the issue of carrying out our promises in regard to self-goverment and independence, their response would be astounding. They have great capability and they are eager for education and self-government. They are sometimes influenced by their heads, but more often by their hearts. We have never made the proper appeal to them as a nation, although there are many warm friendships between individuals of the two races. This appeal we must make without further delay.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • CHARLES C. BATCHELDER, Delegate of the Secretary of the Interior of the Philippine Islands, 1914-16; Acting Commercial Attaché in China, 1919-20; Trade Commissioner in India, 1920-23.
  • More By Charles C. Batchelder