WITH the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands the United States took a bold step forward in the development of an important national policy and at the same time broke new ground in the government of dependencies. The government of the Commonwealth is unlike that of any other political entity under the American flag. In status and prospects it is unique among dependent nations and is without precedent in the international world.
The advance that has been made, however, has not solved the Philippine problem. While the law under which the new government of the Islands was created provides in effect that American sovereignty over the Philippines shall terminate in 1946, the Congress left for future determination such vital matters as the trade relations to be established between the United States and the Philippines after that date, the possible neutralization of the Philippine Republic, and the retention of an American naval base in the Islands. Hence the responsibilities of the United States in the Philippines continue for another decade and America has still to make important decisions concerning its Philippine policy. On their side, the Filipinos still face continuing uncertainty in matters vitally affecting their national existence. In the larger view, the future of the Islands is a question giving more concern than ever to the nations which have interests in the Far East.
The form and organization of the present Philippine government were determined by the Filipinos themselves. The Commonwealth constitution was drafted in Manila by a popularly elected convention that was genuinely representative of the best in Filipino character, intellect and political experience. In personnel and leadership it also represented the overwhelming preponderance of Philippine political power. It produced an organic law which was agreed to by all but one of its 202 members and which was subsequently accepted by the vast majority of the Philippine electorate. Few national constitutions have expressed more completely the free and deliberate choice of a people as to the form of government under which they shall live.
Although in the main reflecting the influence of American political philosophy and practices, the Commonwealth government contains a number of features that have grown out of Philippine experience. Despite a distinct separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, the executive is definitely the predominant branch of the government. The President is chosen by popular vote for a six-year term, and is not immediately eligible for reelection. While he holds office he has those powers vested in the chief executive of the United States plus important additional powers. He has an itemized veto in appropriation and tax bills; authority to recommend appropriations that cannot be increased by the legislature (except those for the National Assembly and the judicial department); authority to overrule the decisions of the auditor-general; power in prescribed circumstances to suspend the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law; and broad powers that may be authorized by the National Assembly in time of national emergency.
Evidence has already been given that President Manuel L. Quezon has the will and the capacity to utilize these extensive powers to the limit. The predominance definitely assigned the president under the constitution, and already established in practice by the first incumbent, is in harmony with the political instincts, traditions and practices of the Filipino people. So long as the office remains in wise hands the result will probably be a government well adapted to the actual needs of the country.
The legislature, called the National Assembly, is unicameral. The judges of all of the courts are appointive and their official independence is protected by every known constitutional device. The law of the Philippines continues to be a combination of the civil and the common law, with "appended" Mohammedan and customary law effective in certain restricted areas. In all of its branches the Commonwealth government is manned by officials who in experience, ability and sincerity of purpose compare favorably with those of other nations.
Perhaps the most significant fact about the position of the Philippine Commonwealth in the American constitutional system is that legally it is on its way towards complete separation from the United States. The conditions under which the organic connection between the United States and the Philippines are to be terminated, and the relationship between the American and Philippine government during the intervening decade, were provided for by an Act of Congress. Yet this Act became effective only after it had been voluntarily and legally accepted by the Philippine people. Hence, it may be argued, the constitutional status of the Islands rests not upon a unilateral expression of the sovereign will of the United States, but upon an agreement between the two countries. There would seem to follow a moral obligation upon both peoples to carry out the agreement loyally and in good faith, except as it may be modified by their common consent.
Moreover, the very nature of the arrangement that has been entered into implies American recognition of the fact that the Philippines possess virtually all of the attributes of statehood, in the international sense, except political independence. It is necessary, therefore, that the Filipinos be dealt with as a nation, although one which temporarily is in a special and subordinate relationship with America. For the terms of the "Independence Act" permit of no doubt that the United States is still sovereign in the Philippines. Under these conditions the American-Philippine relationship is more delicate and calls for more good will and more mature statesmanship on both sides than at any previous period.
In order to be able to meet the responsibilities of continuing sovereignty in the Philippines the United States has retained substantial powers over the new government. The most important of these powers are vested in the American President. The President is given the right to "intervene" for the preservation of the government of the Commonwealth and for the maintenance of that government as provided in the constitution thereof; for the protection of life, property and individual liberty; and for the discharge of government obligations under and in accord with the provisions of the Commonwealth constitution. In him is also vested the right to take over the customs houses should the Commonwealth fail to pay its bonded indebtedness or fulfill its contracts; the power to decide appeals from the auditor general of the Commonwealth; the power to approve or disapprove all acts affecting currency, coinage, imports, exports and immigration, as well as loans contracted in foreign countries and any amendment to the constitution; the authority to suspend the taking effect of or the operation of any law, contract or executive order of the Commonwealth government under certain specified conditions; and the authority to call into the service of the United States all military forces organized by the Philippine government. As the foreign affairs of the Commonwealth also remain under the direct supervision and control of the United States these are also for all practical purposes under Presidential direction.
The legislative and judicial branches of the American government also continue to exercise important powers in the Philippines. Thus all acts of the Commonwealth legislature shall be reported to the American Congress, and to it is reserved authority to amend or repeal any law in force in the Philippines upon the inauguration of the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court of the United States continues to have power to review certain cases from the Philippine Islands; and this power is extended to cases involving the constitution of the Commonwealth. Further indicative of the continuation of American authority in the Philippines are the provisions that until the final and complete withdrawal of American sovereignty all citizens of the Philippines owe allegiance to the United States, and that every officer of the Commonwealth government shall take an oath of office declaring that he accepts the supreme authority of the United States and will give it true faith and allegiance.
The extensive powers over the Commonwealth vested in the American President grant him the authority and presumably lay upon him the duty to see that the government is conducted in accordance with what McKinley called "certain great principles of government which we . . . deem essential to the rule of law and the maintenance of individual freedom," as well as in such a way as not to jeopardize legitimate American interests in the Islands or involve the United States in difficulties with foreign nations. Heretofore this duty has been performed by an American official of the Philippine government, the Governor-General, who had the usual powers and responsibilities of a chief executive under the American system. Henceforth there is to be no American official within the Commonwealth government and American control is to be exercised from without and only for the purposes set forth in the "Independence Law." The result of this situation is that although there is no direct American participation in the governmental process, the President is expected to see to it that in many respects the Commonwealth is governed in a definitely American manner.
In exercising his extensive authority the President will presumably rely on the information and advice furnished him by the "United States High Commissioner to the Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands." It is this official who (when directed by the President) would take over the Commonwealth customs houses; and presumably he would exercise whatever governmental authority the President might assume in the Islands in case "intervention" became necessary. Under normal conditions, however, the High Commissioner has only the position of a legally authorized and specially privileged observer. Assisting him in his work is a staff of experts, headed by legal, financial and economic advisers. The administrative connection between the High Commissioner and the President is through the Bureau of Insular Affairs and the Secretary of War -- the same route formerly followed by the Governor-General.
Ideally, both the High Commissioner and the Commonwealth President will feel that the former has the three rights, and only the three rights, attributed by Walter Bagehot to the British constitutional sovereign: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. Granted the possession of these rights and granted that he exercises them wisely, a properly qualified High Commissioner will need no others. Indeed, he should have no others, for the High Commissioner is not intended to be a super-president. On the other hand, as a trusted, confidential counsellor entirely detached from Philippine partisan politics, yet thoroughly informed concerning local and world conditions, the High Commissioner can render services of the highest value to the chief executive of the Commonwealth. Proper collaboration between these two officials should make it unnecessary for the High Commissioner ever to recommend that the American President exercise his drastic powers of control over the Commonwealth, unless, perhaps, at the request of the Commonwealth President himself.
Personalities often play a greater part in determining the character of public offices than do the laws that create them. In the present case the High Commissionership should develop ideally. During a highly successful administration as the last Governor-General, Frank Murphy became thoroughly acquainted with the problems of the Philippines, won the confidence of all elements in the Philippine community, and manifested in a practical way his sympathy with the national aspirations of the Filipino people. As the first High Commissioner, Mr. Murphy has clearly demonstrated his belief that the authority of the Commonwealth should be respected and enforced. It has been his policy to avoid harassing intermeddling, and as a matter of good faith to give full recognition to the rights of the Philippine people and the dignity of their official representatives. His tactful and wise administration of his office has already accomplished a great deal towards making successful the new government and the American-Philippine relationship established under the "Independence Act." He has done this, moreover, with an intelligent conception of American interests and in a manner well calculated adequately to safeguard them. In this work he has had the understanding and constructive coöperation of President Quezon. Upon a continuation of such relations between these two officials and their successors will depend in considerable degree the success of the bold step that America has taken in turning the process of Philippine government so completely over to the Filipinos while remaining responsible for the manner in which that government is conducted.
The most serious problems faced by the new Commonwealth are those of public order and national economy. The two are closely interrelated. If the latter can be solved the former will not prove insurmountably difficult. This is not to say, however, that there is no danger of internal disorder in the Philippines. The possibility arises from three sources: economic unrest, political discontent, and unstable or dissatisfied minority racial groups. Agrarian unrest, played upon by unscrupulous local leaders, has caused a number of minor uprisings in recent years. In certain sections of the country many tenants and agricultural laborers continue to live under well-nigh intolerable conditions. To these malcontents is now added a growing class of dissatisfied industrial workers, including the employees of the great tobacco factories, the bus companies, the lumber and coconut mills and the longshoremen. Hopeless, ignorant and unbelievably credulous, the agricultural and industrial laborers who live on the margin of subsistence provide a fine field for subversive activities by the political "outs" and by a small but energetically-led communist party. Violence and bloodshed have often attended the struggles of these depressed classes to better their lot, even during the period of relative national prosperity made possible by the duty-free access of Philippine goods to the American market.
There is no accurate gauge for measuring the extent of political discontent in the Philippine Commonwealth. No one questions, however, that at the time it was inaugurated the Quezon government had to face a considerable amount of quite virulent dissatisfaction. General Aguinaldo and Bishop Aglipay of the Independent Filipino Church had been independent candidates for the Commonwealth presidency against Mr. Quezon, President of the Senate. Neither of them possessed political experience, had the backing of any permanent party organization (although Aguinaldo had his "Veteranos" and Aglipay his church), or enjoyed the advantage of any considerable campaign fund. Senate President Quezon and Senator Sergio Osmeña, the vice-presidential candidate, headed a joint ticket agreed upon by both of the national parties, whose organizations extend to virtually every barrio in the Archipelago and command considerable financial resources. Senate President Quezon also enjoyed the advantage of being president of the majority party and the recognized head of the Filipino participation in the existing government.
Yet in the election Aguinaldo polled 179,401 votes and Aglipay 148,006, a total of 327,407, against Quezon's 695,299 and Osmeña's 810,666. Both opposition candidates directed their campaign to the masses. They told the people that the sacred cause of independence had been betrayed by the official leaders and that the Commonwealth meant continued exploitation of the country for an indefinite period by a selfish oligarchy supported by American bayonets.[i] After the election Aguinaldo declared that he had been defeated by fraud and appealed to the President of the United States. For weeks his angry followers, often to the number of a thousand, held nightly meetings in the grounds of his home near Manila, talking sedition and at times openly proposing the assassination of the Filipino government leaders. The extreme precautions taken to protect the life of the President-elect revealed how seriously these and other threats were regarded.
No implication is intended that General Aguinaldo is likely to lead a revolt against the Commonwealth government or to countenance political assassination. Indeed, the General has consistently declared that it was his restraining influence that held his more radical followers in check. This probably was the case. However, the number of votes polled for Aguinaldo and Aglipay in the existing circumstances, plus the feeling of many of the masses that the ballot is valueless to them because elections are won by fraud and wealth, plus the fact that for many years all legitimate opposition parties have been swallowed up by the majority through coalition, fusion or some other mutually agreeable working arrangement, plus the fact that the "outs" are now able to employ the old immediate independence cry that for so many years kept the "ins" in power -- these all add up to make a total of political discontent that is far from reassuring.
The two large native minority groups in the Philippines are the Igorotes, the 400,000 primitive, pagan hill people of the Mountain province of northern Luzon, and the 500,000 Moros (Mohammedans) of Mindanao and Sulu. The alien minorities are the 75,000 (or more) Chinese and approximately 20,000 Japanese. If the Commonwealth remains solvent, it probably will be able to deal with all of these minorities as successfully as have preceding Philippine governments. But a breakdown of public order due to other reasons might make these groups a serious menace to the safety of the state.
The dangers to public order that have been discussed are in considerable degree offset by a number of other factors. Perhaps the chief among these is the generally reasonable and peaceful character of the Filipinos. They are instinctively inclined to compromise and their leaders are adept in arranging agreements that prevent fights to the finish and clean-cut decisions. Nor is there either unity or capable leadership among those who might desire to challenge the authority of the government by force. The President and Vice-President, on the other hand, and many of their political associates in Manila and the provinces, are statesmen of experience and proven ability. Under reasonably favorable conditions they should be able to deal successfully with discontent among their own people.
In any country, however, the ultimate guarantee of the public peace is the government's possession of sufficient power to preserve it by force if necessary. This guarantee exists at present in the Philippines and will continue to exist during the ten-year Commonwealth period, unless there is a disastrous economic breakdown. The Commonwealth President has at his disposal a loyal and efficient constabulary, supported by the new national army. The whole military establishment is being organized and directed under the guidance of Major-General Douglas Mac-Arthur, United States Army, and an able American staff.
Finally, no successful rebellion against the Commonwealth is conceivable because should the Philippine government fail to protect itself the President of the United States is authorized to intervene to preserve and maintain it as provided in its constitution. Probably no widespread rebellion against the Commonwealth will occur. Certainly none would have the slightest chance of success. This does not mean that occasional small but costly revolts are beyond the realm of possibility. Should there be a serious economic breakdown the existing economic and political discontent would be extended and intensified and might produce disorder that could be suppressed only by the stern use of considerable military force. The solution of the problem of public order, therefore, as of most of the other problems of the Commonwealth, will depend primarily upon the continuation of the economic prosperity of the Philippines and the financial soundness of its government.
During the next five years it should prove possible to maintain the basic economic situation in the Philippines because the Islands will continue to enjoy their present favored position in the American market. Even during this period, however, further economic development will be checked by quotas that have limited the duty-free importation of sugar, coconut oil and cordage into the United States, and by the uncertainty of the future. The immediate fiscal position of the Commonwealth is sound. This favorable situation has been produced, however, only by rigid and relentless economy, backed by a courageous use of the Governor-General's veto power for the purpose of protecting the treasury. It is disquieting that in its initial session the new National Assembly should have appropriated for 1936 considerably more than the estimated revenues for this year.
In the sixth year of the Commonwealth, however, the economic picture changes. Beginning then, the Tydings-McDuffie Act imposes upon Philippine products destined for the United States a schedule of export taxes which increase by regular annual increments from 5 percent of the American tariff to 25 percent in the tenth year. In 1946 independence is to be attained. Thenceforth the full American tariff will be applied to all Philippine goods imported into the United States. The primary purposes of the export taxes are to compel the Philippines to diversify its products, decrease production costs and seek non-American markets. But both Filipinos and the Americans resident in the Islands are virtually unanimous in the conviction that these purposes cannot be accomplished in the allotted time. There is grave danger, moreover, that before the end of the period the following Philippine export industries would be seriously depressed, or in some cases destroyed: sugar, molasses, alcohol (from molasses), coconut oil, copra cake, desiccated coconut, cordage, tobacco scrap, cigars, embroideries and buttons. Now these industries comprise about 90 percent of all Philippine exports. Upon them depends the livelihood of millions of Filipinos and the financial structure of many provinces as well as of the Commonwealth Government itself. In jeopardizing them at a time when serious economic and political discontent already exist in the Philippines the economic provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act endanger not only the prosperity of the Filipino people but the financial and political stability of the Commonwealth.
The imposition of the prescribed export taxes, and the uncertainty in which the Tydings-McDuffie Act left post-independence trade relations between the United States and the Philippines, might fail to produce the dire consequences so widely feared. But there can be little doubt that the application of the full American tariff to Philippine products when independence had been achieved would soon be followed by economic ruin and political and social chaos. Leading Filipinos believe that the only way in which they could avert these disasters would be by becoming a part of the economic and political system of their great industrial and military neighbor to the north. Most of them agree with the President of their Constitutional Convention, who stated publicly that such a course would mean "economic pauperism and political extinction" for themselves and their descendants.
Assuming that under the provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Law the Philippine Commonwealth will be threatened with serious dangers during the second half of the coming decade, and that the Philippine Republic to be established in 1946 will not have a reasonable chance for an independent existence, what, if anything, should be done at the present time by the United States? One answer to this question is that the United States should do nothing: that the Filipinos asked for this law, have accepted it, and now the next step is "up to them." There are three weaknesses in this answer. The first is that such an attitude ignores America's inescapable moral responsibility for this Asiatic people that it conquered and over which it is sovereign. The second is that by the terms of its own law and the facts of the actual situation the United States would be compelled to step in, possibly by force of arms, and reëstablish peace, order and governmental stability should they be destroyed in the Philippines prior to the final independence of the Islands. In 1898, when the Filipinos were little more than half as numerous as they now are; when, relatively speaking, they were unarmed, disunited, undeveloped and unorganized; when they were not within the effective sphere of influence of a great and jealous Asiatic power, it was necessary to send 80,000 American troops across the Pacific in order to establish American authority over the Islands. The effort that would be required to reëstablish our effective rule there might be much greater under present conditions.
In the third place, should an economic and political breakdown occur in the Islands prior to the termination of the ten-year period, independence would become impossible in 1946 and would remain impossible for some time thereafter. The United States would be virtually compelled to stay in the Philippines regardless of its wishes or interests. The conclusion is that whether or not the Filipinos are willing to gamble with their future by failing to request an alteration of the terms of the agreement into which they have entered, America should take prompt steps to protect both itself and its ward from the dangers of the present situation.
This end can be accomplished, and the Commonwealth and the Republic given a fair chance of success, only by a considerable revision of the economic provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act. Filipino acceptance of this law was secured in part by the declaration of President Roosevelt that, "Where imperfections or inequalities exist, I am confident that they can be corrected after proper hearing and in fairness to both peoples." The President subsequently indicated that he would call an American-Philippine conference to consider the trade relations between the two countries. Preparations for such a conference are already being made by an American inter-departmental committee composed of representatives of the Departments of State, War, Agriculture and Commerce and the Tariff Commission. In the Philippines a committee appointed by the Governor-General in 1935 and an Economic Council created by the National Assembly are carrying on a similar work.
To put the Philippine Commonwealth and American-Philippine relations upon a sound basis there should be modifications of the Tydings-McDuffie Act extending the time and altering the conditions under which the Filipinos are to be required to make the far-reaching and difficult economic adjustments that are prerequisite to genuine political independence. The most simple and effective action would be the substitution of a mutually beneficial reciprocal trade agreement, which would continue after the establishment of independence, for the graduated export taxes to be levied prior to 1946 and the full American tariff to be imposed beginning July 4 of the latter year. Such action would greatly reduce whatever danger there may now be of a serious economic collapse even before the termination of American sovereignty, and prevent the disasters that would probably follow independence under the existing plan. The continuation of preferential trade between the Philippines and the United States after independence apparently would require an alteration of the most-favored-nation clause in commercial treaties between the United States and a number of other nations. All of these treaties expire or become subject to denunciation prior to 1946, however, and as each of them comes up for continuation the United States could properly request that the other party thereto agree to except the Philippines from the effect of the most-favored-nation provision upon the ground that twenty-five years of free trade between the United States and the Philippines cannot be abruptly terminated with fairness to either country.
The formulation of an American-Philippine trade agreement would naturally involve a reconsideration of the quotas of duty-free sugar, coconut oil and cordage now assigned to the Islands. However, the weight of expert opinion is that the limitations imposed by these quotas will not seriously injure any of the industries in question, but merely prevent their further expansion upon the artificial basis of a free American market. Continued expansion would make it still more difficult for the Philippines to achieve economic independence of America; probably, too, it would be resisted by American interests which fear Philippine competition, as well as by other Americans who believe that the United States should rid itself of the Islands as quickly as possible.
Efforts may be made, also, to put the Commonwealth government in complete control over the Philippine currency, over import and export duties and over foreign affairs. Such alterations in the law would be of doubtful wisdom for two reasons. First, American authority in the Islands should not be further reduced as long as the United States continues to have the responsibilities of sovereignty there. Second, a further extension of autonomy in these matters is not necessary because the American President is already in a position to permit the Commonwealth any liberty of action that may serve Philippine interests without impairing those of the United States. It is doubtful, indeed, whether any alterations in the political provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act can be advantageously made at this time. The Philippine leaders cannot be expected to acquiesce in any reduction of existing autonomy nor can the United States safely reduce its control. More important still, if the Philippines are given a fair chance at economic prosperity and stability the Commonwealth will probably be successful and American interests will be adequately safeguarded without any modification of the political provisions of the law.
If we look both backward and forward -- backward through the thirty-eight years of the American-Philippine connection, forward to the end of the Commonwealth period -- we cannot escape the conclusion the United States is bound both in honor and interest to take whatever steps are necessary to assure the success of the government which has been established in the Islands. I believe that ever since 1898 the American people has intended, practically unanimously, to set up a régime of political liberty in the Philippines. Selfish economic interests may have played a part in the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act. But in the minds of the American public as a whole it was a measure intended to bring one step nearer the consummation of the historic American policy of preparing the Philippines for independence. If there are sound reasons for believing that the economic provisions of the law jeopardize the accomplishment of this purpose those provisions should be altered. The failure of the Commonwealth -- even the eventual failure of the Philippine Republic that is to succeed it -- would be first of all an American failure. It would be a particularly bad failure, too, because it would mean that the United States had not met its obligations towards a weak and dependent people over whom it had extended its rule by force.
The case for assuring the success of the Commonwealth is equally clear from the standpoint of self-interest. It would be costly and thankless to cope with any economic-political collapse that might occur in the Philippines before 1946. And if such a collapse occurred it might well defeat the fundamental purpose of the Tydings-McDuffie Act -- the early separation of the Philippines from the United States. Whether both countries, or either of them, will desire this separation when the allotted ten years shall have expired, cannot be said definitely now. Already there is a growing realization among thinking Filipinos that their long sought "independence" from the United States may mean nothing more than immediate freedom to starve and ultimate domination by some other nation. Very possibly there may be a real demand in the Philippines for an extension of the ten-year period as its end approaches, or at any rate for the prolongation of some sort of political tie with the United States. A decade hence America too may wish to continue some connection with the Islands. Whatever sentiments of this sort may develop, however, there can be no question that it will be to the advantage of the United States to be able to withdraw honorably from the Philippines in 1946 should it then wish to do so. From the purely selfish American viewpoint this freedom of action should be preserved at any reasonable cost.