WHEN they show sufficient capacity," or "When they are able to govern themselves," or "When they are educated enough." So run the answers of many Americans pressed with the question as to when the Filipinos should be granted their independence. Just what do they mean? Senator Sorghum may think no people capable of self-government that does not establish the judicial recall or that does not produce a Billy Sunday. John Smith of Summerville may think no people capable of self-government that does not vote his ticket or go to church on Sundays. The fact is that the phrase "capacity for self-government" is as broad and elastic as the purposes of the person using it at the moment require.

Fortunately, the American promise to the Philippines is not based on such obscure and abstract conditions. Even in the early days ultimate independence was the goal of America.

In President McKinley's instructions to the first Philippine Commission, on January 20, 1899, he expressed the hope that the commissioners would be received as bearers of the "blessings of a liberating rather than a conquering nation." In his message to Congress in the same year he said, "The Philippines are ours, not to exploit, but to develop, to civilize, to educate, to train in the science of self-government. This is the path of duty which we must follow or be recreant to a mighty trust committed to us." Dr. Schurman, President of the first Philippine Commission, construed the American policy to mean "ever increasing liberty and self-government, . . . and it is the nature of such continuously expanding liberty to issue in independence."

When Mr. Taft was Secretary of War, in April, 1904, he said, "When they (the Filipinos) have learned the principles of successful popular self-government from a gradually enlarged experience therein, we can discuss the question whether independence is what they desire and grant it, or whether they prefer the retention of a closer association with the country which, by its guidance, has unselfishly led them on to better conditions." In opening the Philippine Assembly on October 16, 1907, Mr. Taft said, "The policy looks to the improvement of the people, both industrially and in self-governing capacity. As this policy of extending control continues, it must logically reduce and finally end the sovereignty of the United States in the Islands, unless it shall seem wise to the American and the Filipino peoples, on account of mutually beneficial trade relations and possible advantages to the Islands in their foreign relations, that the bond shall not be completely severed."

In 1908, after the Philippine Assembly had been opened, President Roosevelt, in his message to Congress, said, "I trust that within a generation the time will arrive when the Filipinos can decide for themselves whether it is well for them to become independent or to continue under the protection of a strong and disinterested power, able to guarantee to the Islands order at home and protection from foreign invasion."

President Wilson, in a message to the Filipino people delivered by Governor-General Harrison in Manila, October 6, 1913, said, "We regard ourselves as trustees acting not for the advantage of the United States but for the benefit of the people of the Philippine Islands. Every step we take will be taken with a view to the ultimate independence of the Islands and as a preparation for that independence."

During the several years preceding the passage of the Jones Law, various measures providing for qualified or for complete independence were introduced either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate of the United States. All of them, however, failed to secure the approval of both houses of Congress. In February 1916 Congress took up the Philippine question in earnest, and the final result of the discussion of this matter was the passage of the act known as the Jones Law.

The full title of the Jones Law is "An Act to declare the purpose of the people of the United States as to the future political status of the people of the Philippine Islands, and to provide a more autonomous government for these Islands." The declaration of purposes is contained in the following preamble:

Whereas it was never the intention of the people of the United States in the incipiency of the War with Spain to make it a war of conquest or for territorial aggrandizement; and

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; and

Whereas, for the speedy accomplishment of such purpose it is desirable to place in the hands of the people of the Philippines as large a control of their domestic affairs as can be given them without, in the meantime, impairing the exercise of the rights of sovereignty by the people of the United States, in order that, by the use and exercise of popular franchise and governmental powers, they may be the better prepared to fully assume the responsibilities and enjoy all the privileges of complete independence. . . .

The Jones Law was received by the Filipino people as the real pledge of the American people, for the statements of the various American presidents were merely executive opinion not necessarily binding on the United States. In numerous public meetings and in resolutions passed by provincial boards and by municipal councils the measure was heartily welcomed and endorsed. American sovereignty in the Philippines was henceforward considered to exist with the consent of the governed. The author of the Jones Law declared it a covenant or compact between the American and Filipino peoples, by means of which a government autonomous in nature was given the Islands preparatory to complete independence to be granted "when a stable government can be established in the Islands."

The greatest moral claim of the Filipinos for independence is the promise in the preamble of the Jones Law that as soon as a stable government can be established in the Philippine Islands the sovereignty of the United States will be withdrawn and Philippine independence recognized.

The phrase "a stable government" is not, as some have claimed, vague and ambiguous. It has a definite meaning in American international law, especially in the history of America's relations with weak countries struggling for independence. It has a definite meaning in the deliberations of the League of Nations. When the American Government used the phrase in 1916 it was not the first time that it had used it in connection with the recognition of new states. In 1875 there was considerable agitation in the United States to recognize the independence of the Cubans, then struggling to shake off the Spanish yoke. President Grant, in a message to Congress, expressed the idea that not until the Cuban people had set up a government "possessed of the elements of stability could recognition be possible." He used these words:

Where a considerable body of people, who have attempted to free themselves of the control of the superior government, have reached such point in occupation of territory, in power, and in general organization as to constitute in fact a body politic, having a government in substance as well as in name, possessed of the elements of stability, and equipped with the machinery for the administration of internal policy and the execution of its laws, prepared and able to administer justice at home, as well as in its dealing with other powers, it is within the province of those other powers to recognize its existence as a new and independent nation.

Elucidating further what he meant by such a government, he said:

There must be a people occupying a known territory, united under some known and defined form of government, acknowledged by those subject thereto, in which the functions of government are administered by usual methods, competent to mete out justice to citizens and strangers, to afford remedies for public and for private wrongs, and able to assume the correlative international obligations and capable of performing the corresponding international duties resulting from its acquisition of the rights of sovereignty.[i]

President McKinley, when confronted with the same problem of the recognition of Cuban independence, quoted the very words of President Grant as the conditions which must be satisfied.

A similar exposition of the American theory had been made by President Jackson in his message of December 21, 1836, upon the question of recognizing the independence of Texas. And in accordance with the principles that had been adopted the South American republics were one by one recognized as soon as they had shown that they possessed governments exercising all governmental functions and were free from the possibility of being reconquered by the former sovereign state.

The most pertinent precedent for the Philippines is the case of Cuba. The United States had required of Cuba the establishment of the very same kind of government which it now requires of the Filipino people -- a stable government -- before it gave final recognition to the Cuban Republic. In his message to Congress of April 11, 1898, after depicting what was happening to Cuba and pointing out what the United States should do, President McKinley said:

I ask the Congress to authorize and empower the President to take measures to secure a full and final termination of hostilities between the Government of Spain and the people of Cuba, and to secure in the island the establishment of a stable government capable of maintaining order and observing its international obligations, insuring peace and tranquillity and the security of its citizens as well as our own, and to use the military and naval forces of the United States as may be necessary for these purposes.

As a result of the war, Spain was obliged to withdraw her sovereignty from Cuba. The American Government occupied the Island temporarily and proceeded to establish a stable government. The first step was the taking of a census to ascertain the political capacity of the people. It was found that "sixty-six percent of the inhabitants of the islands could not read and write" (a much higher percent of illiteracy than exists in the Philippines), and a limited suffrage was therefore established based on the same conditions as those obtaining in the Philippine Islands before the recent election reform, except that those who had served in the Cuban army were allowed to vote. After the census was taken, municipal and provincial elections were held under a law promulgated by General Wood, the Military Governor. Then the same voters who voted in the municipal and provincial elections were called upon to elect the members of a constitutional convention which was to draft a constitution for Cuba. The Military Governor opened the convention and, by direction of the Secretary of War, said: "It will be your duty first to frame and adopt a constitution of Cuba . . . adequate to secure a stable, orderly and free government."

To explain further what was meant by a "stable, orderly and free government," Secretary Root again sent instructions to the convention through the Military Governor. Mr. Root said:

It is plain that the government to which we were thus to transfer our temporary obligations should be a government based upon the peaceful suffrages of the people of Cuba, representing the entire people and holding their power from the people, and subject to the limitations and safeguards which the experience of constitutional government has shown to be necessary to the preservation of individual rights. . . .

The constitution drafted by the Cuban people was not to the entire satisfaction of Secretary Root, but it was the deliberate work of the representatives of the Cuban people and it was, therefore, considered acceptable. On December 31, 1901, the Cuban people elected provincial governors and councillors, members of the House of Representatives, and presidential and senatorial electors. The presidential and senatorial electors, in turn, met on February 24, 1902, to elect a president, a vice-president and senators. After all these officials had been duly elected, the American Government prepared to transfer the government into their hands. The condition of stability had been accomplished. On May 20, 1902, the Military Governor read the fateful instrument which transferred to "the duly elected representatives of the people of Cuba the government and control of the island."

We thus see that in Cuba a stable government meant a government duly elected by the people. This is the unmistakable interpretation given by the American Government to the words. In 1906, upon the petition of President Palma, the United States was obliged to intervene in Cuba and stop the revolution which threatened the downfall of the government. A stable government had again to be established. The provisional governor saw to it that the Cuban people elected municipal and provincial officials, members of the House of Representatives, senators, a vice-president and president. As soon as all these officials had been elected and installed, Cuba was again restored to the Cuban people, under a stable government. The United States left.

That the meaning given to the phrase stable government in connection with Cuba is the same as that which the phrase has in the preamble to the Jones Law is easily demonstrated. The phrase stable government was first used in connection with the Philippine problem in the Democratic platform of 1900. "We favor an immediate declaration," read that platform, "of the nation's purpose to give the Philippines, first, a stable form of government; second, independence; and third, protection from outside interference, such as has been given for nearly a century to the republics of Central and South America." Mr. Bryan, who was the author of the Philippine plank of 1900, declared that the phrase stable government meant the same kind of government that was being established in Cuba. In accepting the nomination for the presidency, he said: "If elected, I will convene Congress in extraordinary session as soon as inaugurated and recommend an immediate declaration of the nation's purpose, first, to establish a stable form of government in the Philippine Islands, just as we are now establishing a stable form of government in Cuba; second, to give independence to the Filipinos as we have promised to give independence to the Cubans; third, to protect the Filipinos from outside interference while they work out their destiny, just as we have protected the republics of Central and South America, and are, by the Monroe Doctrine, pledged to protect Cuba." His opponent, President McKinley, did not differ from him as to the kind of government meant by the phrase stable government, but he did not favor at that time the establishment in the Philippines of such a government. He said: "We are required to set up a stable government in the interest of those who have assailed our sovereignty and fired upon our soldiers, and then maintain it at any cost or sacrifice against its enemies and against those having ambitious designs from without."

The interpretation of the League of Nations of the words stable government is similar to the interpretation that has been cited above. Possession of such a government is one of the conditions required by the League of Nations before new states can be admitted to it. The Committee on Admission of the First Assembly of the League of Nations laid down in 1921 the following questions to be answered by each applicant: (a) Is its application for admission to the League in order? (b) Is the government applying for admission recognized de jure or de facto and by which states? (c) Is the applicant a nation with a stable government and settled frontiers? What are its size and its population? (d) Is it fully self-governing? (e) What has been its conduct, including both acts and assurances, with regard to its international obligations and the prescriptions of the League as to armaments?

What was the criterion used by the League of Nations in determining whether an applicant had a stable government or not? Had the Philippines been an applicant, would they have lived up to that criterion?

Austria was declared by the subcommittee to have a "stable government established within well-defined frontiers." "She had expressed her desire to observe her international obligations, and declared that she had given proof of this by her conduct." As to Bulgaria, another subcommittee's report read: "She has a stable government and well-defined frontiers." Similarly, Costa Rica, Finland and Albania were declared to possess stable governments. Albania's application was approved in spite of the fact that she had not yet been recognized by other nations, that her frontiers were not fully defined, and that some of her territories were still held by foreign troops.

In other words, a stable government has been interpreted by the learned internationalists of the Assembly of the League of Nations as a de facto government which has the support of the people. Any impartial observer will compare the condition of the Philippines favorably with those of the countries which were in 1921 declared by the League of Nations to be the possessors of stable governments.

The American representative in the Philippines who supervised the establishment of the government under the Jones Law, Governor-General Harrison, has concurred in the report of the Philippine Legislature as to the existence of a stable government there. He reported to Congress in 1919 that there was already in the Philippine Islands the stable government demanded by Congress -- "namely, a government elected by the suffrages of the people, which is supported by the people, which is capable of maintaining order and of fulfilling its international obligations."

President Wilson in his farewell message to Congress officially certified that the Filipino people had already performed the condition imposed upon them as a prerequisite to independence. He said:

Allow me to call your attention to the fact that 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 a 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 did not expect that when the Republican Party came to power it would try to reverse the action already taken towards the fulfillment of America's promise to them. They had considered the Philippine policy of the United States as being not the expression of a party but of the nation. The Jones Law, with its preamble, had ultimately been approved with practically no opposition from the Republicans; indeed, as we have seen, it was the logical evolution of Republican policy, for it had been borrowed by Mr. Bryan from the work of Republican administrations in Cuba and from the recognition of new states by Republican presidents.

When President Harding had been installed in office the Filipino leaders sent President Quezon to Washington to find out the policy of the new President. He soon found that even if there was no definite plan to diminish Filipino control in the Islands there was no desire or purpose on the part of the new administration to carry out a program of independence in harmony with the Jones Law and based on the fact, recognized by President Wilson, that a stable government had been set up there.

In order to justify his attitude President Harding decided to send the Wood-Forbes Mission to the Philippines. He frankly stated that the reason for sending a mission was President Wilson's message to Congress, wherein the Democratic President had recognized the existence of a stable government in the Philippines and urged the granting of independence. While President Harding neither ratified nor disapproved the standard used by the previous administration in determining whether the Philippines had a stable government or not, Secretary of War Weeks, in another instruction to the Mission, did adopt an entirely different standard. He did not take the Jones Law preamble as the criterion which should be used in measuring the possibilities for independence in the Islands, although the preamble of the Jones Law is the only statement of policy that was ever voted upon and approved by the Congress of the United States. Secretary Weeks predisposed the mind of the Mission in favor of the indefinite retention of the Islands by the United States when he said:

The pleasing of the Filipinos of this generation would be a minor satisfaction if it were believed that it would result in the bondage or destruction of the Filipino people for all time hereafter.

Whether the result of your investigation may or may not be to the satisfaction of the majority of the Filipino people at this time, I am convinced that, undertaken in the spirit in which it is committed to you and in which you have undertaken it, it cannot but be to the future satisfaction of the Filipinos and must, of necessity, result in their permanent well-being and progress.

No mention whatever was made in the Wood-Forbes report of the promise of independence contained in the preamble of the Jones Law. The Chairman of the Mission apparently had a different interpretation from that of the American Congress regarding the term "stable government." At a meeting held by the Philippine Columbian Association he was reported to have defined it in the following words:

A stable government means civic courage, courts of justice which give equal opportunities to the Senator as well as to the simple "tao," resources ready for disposal at any moment they are needed by the country, organization which enables the country to defend its integrity, adequate hospitals all over the Islands which are not found in the provinces we have just visited, social organizations which show keen human interest in the protection of the needy and the poor, effective public sanitation, common language, and many others.

Let us suppose that in the survey of Philippine conditions the Wood-Forbes Mission had used the standard of a stable government used by Presidents McKinley and Wilson. Critical as the survey was, I believe that the conditions exposed in the report would compare favorably with the conditions existing in the countries admitted in 1921 into the League of Nations. In President McKinley's estimate there were two main elements in a stable government: first, ability to maintain order and insure peace and tranquillity and the security of citizens; second, ability to observe its international obligations. To these two elements, Mr. Root, in his instructions for the Cuban people, also added the following: it must rest upon the peaceful suffrages of the people and must contain constitutional limitations to protect the people from the arbitrary actions of the government. Substantiation of the existence of these four elements will be found in the facts gathered by the Mission. It was admitted by the Mission that excellent order prevailed and that the constabulary was sufficient to maintain internal peace. The tranquillity and security of the citizens were not jeopardized. Elections were peaceful. As to the obligations for international life, the Wood-Forbes Mission recognized that there were people in the Philippine service who could do credit to any government and that our legislature was filled with representative men.

Further evasion of the pledge contained in the preamble to the Jones Law is shown in two letters of President Coolidge, one dated February 21, 1924, addressed to Speaker Roxas, the other to Governor Wood explaining his veto of the Plebiscite Bill. Here is the criterion which President Coolidge would use as regards the granting of independence:

The ability of a people to govern themselves is not easily attained. History is filled with failures of popular government. It cannot be learned from books; it is not a matter of eloquent phrases. Liberty, freedom, independence are not mere words the repetition of which brings fulfillment. They demand long, arduous, self-sacrificing preparation. Education, knowledge, experience, sound public opinion, intelligent participation by the great body of the people, high ideals--these things are essential. The degree in which they are possessed determines the capacity of a people to govern themselves. In frankness and with the utmost friendliness, I must state my sincere conviction that the people of the Philippine Islands have not as yet attained the capability of full self-government.

The standard here described is absolutely elastic. It may mean requiring 90 percent of literacy, the establishment of a public opinion to the extent that obtains in England and America, or the existence of as intelligent a democracy as that of Switzerland.

The present Secretary of War, Mr. Hurley, went a step further back in interpreting America's promise of independence. In his letter to Senator Bingham of the Committee on Territories, Secretary Hurley expressed his doubts regarding the promise of independence as specified in the preamble of the Jones Law.

An examination of the record leads to the conclusion that no commitment, legal or moral, exists as regards immediate independence or independence within any specific period of years; and no commitment as regards ultimate independence has been found which appears to be more binding than the correlative obligation for the continuation of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands until the trust which has been assumed, in behalf of the Philippine people as a whole, can honorably be terminated when they are adequately prepared to fully assume the responsibilities . . . of complete independence.

We may agree with the first part of his statement "that no commitment, legal or moral, exists as regards immediate independence or independence within any specified period of years." But the Filipino people disagree vigorously with the second part. They cannot believe that the repeated statements of American executives which I have quoted mean nothing, or that the promise in writing contained in the Jones Law, passed by Congress and signed by the President -- a promise which was called a covenant between the two peoples -- is a mere scrap of paper. It stands on the record of the American Congress, and to us Filipinos it means the plighted word of the United States. We cannot believe that that promise is simply tantamount to the implied moral obligation attendant upon an assumed trust. Such a declaration places America on the same footing as the other colonizing Powers which announced to the world that they would stay in their colonies until their task is finished. And it will never be finished. It is the shield behind which the most sordid and cruel imperialism in Africa has flourished.

On another score the practice of the administration at Washington does not square with the recognized principles of government. When a people possess a representative government there is only one way of learning their desire, and that is through their representatives. No better barometer has yet been devised for finding out the popular will. Yet since 1920 the Republican administration has sent out three missions, the Wood-Forbes Mission, that of Mr. Carmi Thompson, and the recent mission of Secretary Hurley, for at any rate the partial purpose of ascertaining whether the Filipinos want independence or not.

I submit that such practice only increases the difficulties in the way of a proper solution of the Philippine problem. We have representative institutions in our country. Popular elections have been held since 1907. The verdict of the people, given through the ballot, has always been in favor of immediate independence. The party which advocated American retention of the Philippines was relegated to oblivion, and after changing its name had to fuse with a party claiming to be more radical than the Nationalist Party. Municipal councils, provincial boards, the Philippine Assembly from 1907 to 1916, the Philippine Legislature from 1916 up to the present time, and all the political parties operating in the Philippines, have given unmistakable proof of the desire of the Filipino people to have immediate separation from America. Yet a few American officials come here on a flying trip, talk with a dozen or so people in each place, and hurry back to America to tell the American people and Congress that the record and elections of our municipal councils, our provincial boards, the Philippine Assembly and the Philippine Legislature do not reflect the people's desire for independence. When the Philippine Legislature proposed the only more authoritative way of knowing the people's desire, through a national plebiscite, the measure was killed by executive veto.

We have shown that America's promise of independence has a definite and understandable meaning. Stable government has a recognized interpretation in the international relations of the United States and in the deliberations of the League of Nations. At most, it means only a government supported by the people and capable of maintaining order and fulfilling its obligations. We submit that those conditions prevail in the Philippines now or can be created at any time that the opportunity is offered. We consider the elaborations and amendments made by Secretary Weeks, Governor Wood, President Coolidge, and lastly by Secretary Hurley as unfair and unwarranted. They do not find any Congressional sanction. They range from the establishment of an ideal democracy and the building of more hospitals to the formation of a government that will stand up against the most powerful foreign aggression and prevent all economic penetration. We submit that no nation on earth can qualify under each and every one of these conditions. They seem to us mere words to tease us along.

[i] "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," Vol. X, p. 4291., Bureau of Nat. Litt., N. Y.

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  • MAXIMO M. KALAW, Dean of the University of the Philippines; author of several books on Philippine government
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