THE Congress of the United States passed the so-called Jones Act which in its preamble made the statement that "it is and always has 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." The attempt was made in the Senate to amend this preamble so that independence was to be granted when in the judgment of the United States it would be "to the permanent benefit of the Philippine Islands." But when it was realized that this did not promise independence at all, the Senate by a vote of 52 to 24 adopted an amendment authorizing the President definitely to "withdraw and surrender all rights of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control and sovereignty" over the Philippine Islands, and requiring that the transfer be made absolute in not less than two nor more than four years. This action of the Senate shows that Congress meant what it said, and rejected absolutely the idea that the independence of the islands should depend on the judgment of the United States (which meant of course the politicians for the moment in power) as to what the interests of the islands required.

This was, and was regarded, as a promise of independence both by the Filipinos and the people of the United States, and there can be no better evidence of this than the following statement of Theodore Roosevelt:

"Personally I think it is a fine and high thing for a nation to have done such a deed (our work in the Philippines) with such a purpose. But we cannot taint it with bad faith. If we act so that the natives understand us to have made a definite promise, then we should live up to that promise. The Philippines, from a military standpoint, are a source of weakness to us. The present administration has promised explicitly to let them go, and by its action has rendered it difficult to hold them against any serious foreign foe. These being the circumstances, the islands should at an early moment be given their independence without any guaranty whatever by us and without our retaining any foothold in them."

There are those, and I think they are the majority of the American people, who believe that the promise of the United States should be kept. But is the President of the United States among them? His public utterances on the subject make it clear that he is pursuing the policy which Congress rejected when the Jones Bill was passed, and proposes to retain the islands indefinitely as long as an argument can be made that independence is not for their interest, whatever their feeling may be. An analysis of his message dated April 6 sustaining General Wood's veto of "An act to hold a plebiscite of the people of the Philippine Islands on the question of Philippine independence" makes this apparent. The President states the question thus:

"The stated object of the bill is to put an end to frequent assertions in the United States that the people of the Philippine Islands do not want immediate, absolute and complete independence. To accomplish this it is proposed to hold a plebiscite of the people of the Islands in which the question to be voted on will be: 'Do you desire the immediate, absolute and complete independence of the Philippine Islands?' The voter must vote categorically 'Yes' or 'No.' Any other reply invalidates the ballot."

He takes exception to the form in which the question is put, assuming that there are many Filipinos who hold different shades of opinion, some "who desire the immediate independence of their country, but who also realize the necessity for the protection of the American Government for several years if not indefinitely;" some "who treasure the hope of absolute independence of their country, yet believe that the present system should continue until in their opinion they are able to take over the full control of their own affairs;" and many "who believe that the United States is the best judge of the appropriate relation of the islands to the United States." These statements of the President are pure assumption. The object of the plebiscite is to give the Filipinos a chance to speak for themselves.

In reply to the President it may be observed: First. An election is rarely if ever held in which every voter can express his exact wish. We all know that. Second. These alleged classes are none of them in favor of immediate and complete independence, and can therefore properly vote "No." If they don't, it is because they feel that the evils of the present system outweigh the bugbears of independence as painted by the Americans who are opposed to it. Third. Let the vote be taken and we shall know better than we know now how strong the feeling for independence is.

The President knows and dreads the result for he says:

"Independence is a very appealing word. Few people will vote against independence for themselves or against independence for anybody else. To submit to a man the question whether he desired to be independent, or not, is really trifling with the sacred feelings innate in humankind."

In other words the people of the United States would not vote to hold the islands if they knew what the Filipinos wanted, and this would be fatal to the President's policy.

He knows now what the islanders wish, for he says:

"No conclusive reason is given why the result of this vote would be more convincing than that of the elected representatives of the people in the Legislature."

He knows that those "elected representatives" have year after year voted unanimously for independence, "immediate and complete," and on his own statement this should be taken to express the wish of the people.

As an afterthought he says:

"The holding of the plebiscite would involve a considerable expenditure on the part of the Philippine government, its provinces and municipalities."

As compared with the question involved the expense is insignificant. We, with our experience of sums paid in primary and other elections, are nevertheless not disposed to abandon them.

The President seems aware that these objections are not convincing, and proceeds to state another and perhaps his real reason:

"In a letter dated February 21st, 1924, to the Speaker of your House of Representatives I set forth, with a frankness which I believe justified by then existing conditions, why the government of the United States would not feel that it had performed its full duty by the people of the Islands or discharged all of its obligations to civilization if it should yield to the Philippine aspiration for national independence."

It will be observed that this statement does not contemplate postponement, but seems to speak of denying independence, and asserts a keen sense of obligation to civilization and what the President considers the interests of the islands.

He proceeds to dwell on the extent to which the progress of the islands has been due to the material assistance received from the United States and adds:

"Unless and until the people and their leaders are thoroughly informed of this material assistance and have a fair appreciation of what its withdrawal means, a vote on the abstract question of independence would be not only futile but absolutely unfair to them, and the acceptance of the result as an informed judgment would be dangerous to their future welfare."

He does not seem to consider the possibility that the arguments against independence could be presented in the campaign preceding the election, and finds it easier to assume that the voters will vote blindly and ignorantly.

He proceeds to present facts in support of the claim that "by far the greatest advantage in an economic way of their present relation to the United States comes to the islands through the present trade relations. " He points out that "in 1926 over 70 percent of the exports of the Philippine Islands were sold in the United States," that on the goods imported there were waived duties amounting to $42,000,000, while on the exports of the United States to the islands amounting to $71,500,000 duties waived were $12,800,000. In other words on a free trade basis trade flourished between the two countries. The figures are doubtless correct, but the assumption seems to be that these trade relations were established for the benefit of the Filipinos. It is safe to assume that they would not have continued a week unless the American merchants had found their profit in them.

It is safe also to assume that as long as there are in the Philippines products which the islanders want to sell and which Americans want to buy, and in the United States goods for which Americans are glad to find a Filipino market, the profits which American merchants are making under the present system will not be thrown away, but the will to gain them will remain and the way to get them will be devised. Our whole reason for taking the islands was commercial profit, and our reluctance to let them go shows that such profit has been realized.

As late as August 2, 1905, the Representatives of Batangas province addressed a letter to Governor Taft to show the miserable condition of the municipality of Balayan. The statistics they offered showed that, whereas in 1896 the number of inhabitants in that district was 41,308, in 1905 the number had been reduced to 13,924. There had been 19,500 hectares of cultivated land in 1896; there were only 1,700 in 1905. Other items had suffered even more, rice having fallen from 39,020 to 12,500 cavanes; sugar from 520,000 to 12,300; maize from 110,000 to 10,000; oxen from 4,110 to 433. Cows were 3,680 in 1896, but only 80 were left seven years later; hens were 96,000 before the war, but only 5,000 four years after the establishment of civil government. Consider what a story those figures tell. In addition, there had been placed upon the shoulders of the entire population an internal revenue tax, of which Professor Paul S. Reinsch said: "Outside of Italy it would be hard to find a system of taxation that so efficiently scours the whole field of business. The merchants and professional men of a country like the United States would look upon it as a most unbearable burden."

In the light of these hardships, it would be reasonable to expect that the economic policy of the United States towards the Islands would be guided by the desire to make them as prosperous as possible. And yet the first few years of American legislation in this matter showed a series of acts which had contrary results.

When the Islands were under the dominion of Spain the native planters had had the benefit of a limited Spanish market, but when the United States sovereignty was extended to the archipelago this market was taken away and in its place nothing was given. The first tariff act passed by the American Congress to regulate the trade of the Philippines was that of March 8, 1902. It allowed Philippine products coming into the United States a reduction of 25 percent from the regular Dingley rates. Governor Taft realized how ineffective this reduction was, and he pleaded very earnestly with Congress to give his Filipinos something in lieu of the privileges they had had under Spain. But the sugar and tobacco interests in the United States checked his efforts because they were afraid that Philippine products would endanger their domestic crops.

There were one or two "jokers" in this tariff legislation of 1902 also that are already well-known. One was the clause which abolished the export tax on Philippine produce coming to the United States. Among these native products was the world-famous Philippine hemp. This native product was at the time sorely needed in the home markets, and the object of the law was clearly to favor the exportation of this article to the United States exclusively and thus defeat the British and other foreign exporters in Manila from getting their share of it.

The method by which this was accomplished really constituted the big "joker" of the tariff act. It will be remembered that export taxes were collected on Philippine produce as it left the custom house in Manila. Now the levying of taxes on exports is strictly prohibited by the Constitution of the United States, but the Supreme Court at Washington had said that the Constitution did not extend to the Philippines. Among the articles thus taxed was hemp, but the tariff law of 1902 now said that if the hemp shipped from Manila was proved to have been consumed in the United States, then the export duties already paid would be refunded to the shipper. This odd method of administering the law was double-edged. It not only gave the American exporter a tremendous advantage over his British rival, but it also favored the American shipper over the Filipino planter.

This was so because when the native planter sold his crop he was forced to sell it at the current price, which assumed that an export tax would be levied upon it. To an American shipper the recovery of this export duty later was a matter of routine, as he could easily prove through his American offices that the hemp was in fact received and consumed in the United States. But the Filipino planter or broker dealing on a much smaller scale could not, without difficulty and expense, follow his few bales into the markets of the United States and then prove to the custom officials that the hemp was in fact consumed there. The result of this American legislation was apparent -- only the big fish, like the American hemp trust, got the benefit.

Governor Taft and his commission saw the injustice thus placed on the native planters, and they earnestly besought Congress to remove such legislation from the statute books of the United States. "These refundable duties," they said in their report of 1904, "are in effect a gift of that amount to the manufacturers of the United States who use hemp in their operations." Their report of the following year was just as earnest in its complaint. "It is a direct burden upon the people of the Philippine Islands," they said, "because it takes from the Insular treasury export duties collected from the people and gives them to manufacturers of hemp products in the United States." And they added: "It seems hardly consistent," that "with our expressions of purpose to build and develop the Philippine Islands . . . we are thus enriching a few of our own people at their (the Filipinos') expense."

By 1906 the situation had not abated. When Governor General Ide returned to the United States he frankly said: "By annexation we killed the Spanish market for Philippine sugar and tobacco, and our tariff shuts these products from the United States, and today both these industries are prostrated."

It would be fruitless to examine in detail all the steps taken by the powerful American elements at home and abroad to aid their own interests at the expense of others. Dr. Parker Willis, Professor of Economics in the Washington and Lee University, after making an exacting study of the tariff laws, finally added this convincing summary:

"Wines were taxed in such a way as to discriminate against the light Spanish beverages and in favor of the Californian. Canned goods were taxed according to weights of the cans, a plan which favored Chicago and St. Louis producers as against English. Beer was so rated that the American product shipped in barrels was favored against the beer of other countries. Every effort was made to help the American and hamper the foreign shipper."

How absolute the American control of the Philippine treasury has been to this day was stated in the leading editorial of the Boston Transcript for September 24, 1925, from which the following is a quotation:

"The American people are brought to a crisis in their and the government's relations with the Philippine Islands by the decision of the Philippine Supreme Court that rulings of the insular auditor are not definitive, but may be appealed to the local courts. The power of the Philippine auditor (an American official) subject to that of the Governor-General and the United States Secretary of War, is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of American authority in the islands. . . . The present decision has been promptly appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and no doubt a prompt ruling will be handed down from that tribunal. If it should sustain the Philippine decision, the decisive authority of the American government in the islands would be at an end, and the islands themselves might as well be turned over to the Filipinos."

In other words one subordinate official with a salary of six thousand dollars must have absolute control over the use which is made of taxes raised from eleven millions of people. What nation would submit to such tyranny?

The President states as another benefit to the islands:

"The public works, marking outwardly the development of the Islands, were in a great degree, as is customary, built with borrowed money. The bonds of the Philippine government have been made tax-exempt in the United States and have been given certain other advantages as the result of which the Philippine government has borrowed its money at a rate of interest at least 3 percent lower than money could have been borrowed by an independent government in the Philippines, if indeed it could have borrowed these sums at all. This means, conservatively, that the Philippine Islands is paying $2,000,000 annually less interest on its present indebtedness than it would pay but for its dependence on the United States and the credit that that relation gives to the Islands."

No one who has studied the relations between the Government of the United States and its dependencies has failed to discover that the United States has used its power to secure issues of bonds which in such ways as the President describes, or others as effective, have been made marketable in the United States, have been secured by American bankers and sold at a good profit, and whose existence has been used to prevent the country issuing them from escaping the control of the United States. Haiti, Santo Domingo and others are examples.

The President further says:

"In 1926 the United States spent in the Philippines in the upkeep of the Army, Navy and other services the sum of $14,500,000 or over 10 percent of the value of all Philippine products sold abroad. This amount would also be lost to the Philippines if independence were granted."

One may well ask why this military and naval force is kept at the islands. Not to protect them, for it is well known that when we were last at war instructions were given our officers in the islands to depart with their forces at once in case of threatened attack. To keep the natives down ? If so, is this an expense which should be charged to them? Or is it, as the writer has been informed, that these soldiers and ships are part of our regular army and navy which must be kept somewhere and cost less if kept at the Philippines than if kept elsewhere ?

This at least is true, that what is spent on the army and navy is the only sum that is spent by the United States in the islands, but it does not go to the Filipinos and they will not love it. All the other benefits -- roads, schools, education, sanitary regulations, medical services -- have been paid out of Filipino taxes.

The President adds:

"Such a government, crippled by the direct loss of revenue, by increased interest rates on loans, and by the paralyzation of its industries, would be called on to incur the added cost of keeping up a diplomatic service, army, navy, and other features of sovereignty. It is obvious that the revenues of the Islands would be totally inadequate to maintain a separate government."

This is a reckless assertion. How many of all the independent states who are members of the League of Nations have navies ? Many have none and few any that would be of consequence in war. How many have armies that are more than a police force? And as for a diplomatic service, a special envoy when required would answer any probable demands.

The President says that "education, knowledge, experience, sound public opinion, intelligent participation by the great body of the people, high ideals, these things are essential to independence. Demonstration of the ability to carry on successfully the large powers of government already possessed would be far more convincing than continued agitation for complete independence." How under the present system are these requirements to be met?

It will be remembered that Mr. Carmi A. Thompson was sent by the President as a special representative to investigate the conditions in the Philippines, and in his report stated that "the military atmosphere of the present administration has been unfortunate in its reactions upon the Filipino leaders. The Governor-General, himself a distinguished soldier, is surrounded by a group of American army officers who serve as assistants, aides, and confidential advisers. These officers have excellent military records but evidently lack training and experience in the duties of civil government and in dealing with legislative bodies and civilian officials. Instead of facilitating coöperation between the Governor-General, on the one hand, and the Filipino heads of the executive departments and the legislative leaders on the other, this group has been one of the factors which have made such coöperation difficult."

The President assumes that the Filipino people are entirely ignorant of how fortunate they are under American rule, and how disastrous any attempt on their part to terminate it would be. It is fair to assume that they are a very intelligent people and they know what American rule means. They know whether it is for their advantage or not, and now after trying it day by day for more than a quarter of a century they are more anxious than ever to be free, and the spirit which led them for four years to battle for their freedom at enormous loss of life and property still burns in their hearts. They are some twelve million of people, far from our shores; it certainly is not safe to treat them as if they did not know what their own interests are, and as if the United States had only to decide whether they are well-governed. Military officers cannot safely be trusted with absolute power to govern a free people.

The President says boldly that the Philippine Islands "have the rights and privileges of American citizens without the obligations." They are governed by the Congress of the United States in the last resort and by the President. They have no voice in the choice of either. The President says of the United States Government: "It cannot if it would avoid the obligation of deciding the degree of self-government which the people of the Philippine Islands are capable of sustaining at any given time. The responsibility both to the Filipino people and civilization is there. It cannot be shifted." This is an assertion of absolute power to determine the future of the Philippine Islands without consulting the people. It requires audacity to deny at one moment their right to express their wishes and in the next to insist that they have "all the rights of American citizens." To an American who knows what those rights are it is a very shocking statement.

In conclusion, it must be observed that from the beginning of the President's message to the end there is nowhere any suggestion that the United States has ever made a promise to grant independence or that it ever will, nor a word to encourage the Filipinos to hope that independence is only postponed but must ultimately be granted. On the contrary, the President asserts absolute rights in the Islands by virtue of the power which the wealth and population of the United States gives it.

The question of how this country should deal with the Philippine Islands is a question for the peoples of the two countries to decide. So far as the United States is concerned, it is a question for Congress, and Congress by the Jones Bill fixed the policy of this country. It is not within the constitutional power of the President to change this policy. But he makes it clear that he does not propose to carry it out. In the last Congress, when the Committee of the House was preparing a bill to grant independence after a certain period, he gave distinct notice that he should veto it. He is afraid that the Filipinos would vote almost unanimously for independence, and that such an expression of their desire would be respected by the people of this country, for he says, "Few people will vote against independence for themselves or against independence for anybody else." But he is not in sympathy with this universal feeling.

In a word, the President undertakes to determine the future relations of some twelve million Filipinos and more than a hundred million Americans without consulting either people or their representatives. The result may well be an Ireland of our own, ten thousand miles from our shores.

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  • MOORFIELD STOREY, former President of the American Bar Association, author of the "Life of Charles Sumner" and other volumes
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