LAST November, more than five million Filipinos went to the polls to vote on candidates for a variety of national and local offices. The fact itself was not news in the Philippines or abroad; Filipinos have been voting since 1906. Since 1940, however, there has been a growing truth about Philippine elections which could be news but which not even all Filipinos have come to realize: the process of elections in the Philippines is the most difficult in the world. The reason for this is to be found in a unique combination of things--a territory more challenging and a political system more demanding than those of any other working democracy today.

The Republic of the Philippines is broken up into more than 7,000 islands, of which some 400 are inhabited by the 24,000,000 souls that make up its population. While there is adequate inter-island water and air transportation, land transportation in many provinces, particularly those in the Visayas and Mindanao group of islands, is far from satisfactory. Many communities in the Visayan islands of Leyte, Samar, Panay and Palawan and on the coast of the big, rich island of Mindanao can be reached only by perilous water transport. Manila newspapers, the only daily publications of national circulation, hardly ever reach these municipalities. Their isolation, once almost absolute, has lately been somewhat relieved with the increase of transistor radios distributed by government and private agencies.

Upon this rugged physical foundation there has been built a constitutional structure patterned on that of the United States. The offices and terms of office are similar except that in the Philippines members of the lower house are elected for four-year terms coinciding with those of the President and Vice President. Also, senators, of whom there are 24, are elected at large which means that the entire electorate votes for eight candidates every two years. The selection of provincial and municipal officials coincides with the senatorial elections in mid-Presidential term.

By the standards of parliamentary government, this is complex enough, but it is only the beginning of the demands made upon the electorate. Each choice for each position must be written on the ballot. Party tickets are not allowed to be posted in the polling booth, either for national or local offices. A list of all senatorial candidates, arranged alphabetically and without party identification, is all that is permitted. In the last elections, which were in mid-Presidential term, the voter who wished to choose a full ticket had to write in the names of eight candidates for senator, one for provincial governor, one for provincial vice governor, three for members of the provincial board, one for municipal mayor, one for vice mayor and ten for municipal council--a total of 25 names.

To aid the voter's memory, each party distributes sample ballots in the last days of the campaign and on election day. In this crucial period, the campaign shifts from the "battle of issues" to the "battle of the sample ballot." The ability to carry these sample ballots to the barrios or villages where the bulk of the votes is found is, of course, of decisive importance in a national candidate's bid for victory.

It is not difficult to imagine the weight of the party machine in such a test of strength. The two established parties are protected by a singular electoral statute which in effect provides them exclusively with government-paid poll-watchers, who form the ready-made base for a political machine. By virtue of this privilege, the two major parties have access to the smallest, most remote village free of charge. But in the highly centralized political structure of the Philippines, the advantage enjoyed by the party in power in such an electoral system requires in every instance an almost superhuman effort if it is to be overhauled.

In every election the opposition has had to call for a national crusade rallied behind a figure preëminently successful at capturing the imagination of the people. In 1953, the opposition Nationalist Party was almost ready, it seemed, to officiate at the interment of a graft-ridden Liberal administration; it nevertheless found it necessary to "steal" from the Liberals their Secretary of Defense, Ramon Magsaysay, who had just set his countrymen's hearts afire by breaking the back of the Communist rebellion. With Magsaysay as their presidential candidate against an ailing opponent (the incumbent President Quirino), and with the aid of a massive citizens' non-partisan drive (the Magsaysay-for-President Movement), the Nacionalistas succeeded in overcoming the majority advantage and returning to power.

To the Britisher, the Frenchman, the Indian or the Australian, who under the parliamentary system has never experienced having to vote for a candidate on a nation-wide basis; to the Vietnamese, the Indonesian or the Malayan, whose electoral system is apt to be so simplified that in some instances he has merely to deposit in a basket a ball whose color corresponds to that of his favorite party; to the American, unaccustomed to voting for senatorial candidates at large and secure in the decentralized ambiance of his constitutional system--to all these the workings of the Philippine political and electoral system must be quite shocking. To them, the hope of any independent candidate or group of candidates being able to challenge such a system successfully must appear absurd. But to the Filipino, who is unaccustomed to any other electoral system but his own, and yet is unwilling to admit the inevitability of the merry-go-round of the established parties, such an idea could conceivably occur.

In 1959, indeed, a group of young politicians, belonging to the two established parties and the new Progressive Party, joined in a Grand Alliance and challenged the system. They presented eight candidates for senator and a number of aspirants for local positions. They were in effect putting the electorate to the most difficult test of maturity and independence to which any democratic nation could be subjected today.

The results, in terms of a quick victory, were not sensational. A few local candidates won but no senate seats were gained. Viewed nationally, however, the showing of the senate ticket was revealing and refreshing. Machineless, fundless and almost completely watcherless, the top aspirants of the group obtained 1,700,000 votes, or about a third of the number of registered voters who actually cast their ballot. They were less than 200,000 votes behind the man who won in eighth position.

A parallel movement on the local level, the Citizens' League for Good Government of Quezon City (the official, though partial, capital of the Philippines, on the outskirts of Manila), was even more successful. The League presented six candidates for the ten-man city council. Among them were a former Secretary of Justice in the Magsaysay and Garcia cabinets, one former and one incumbent university president, a former ambassador and an Annapolis-trained former naval officer. All six came in on top and are now in control of a superbly functioning city government.

The test was difficult, but it was passed. It was a somewhat more sophisticated test than that to which most peoples in this part of Asia are subjected. This should be cause for elation for our people and for anyone else who may feel a sense of participation in the development of our democracy. It is consoling that, while we can afford to worry about such problems as decentralization and the facilitation of a freer evolution of the two-party system, the problem for others around us is a far more elementary and agonizing one--the decision, in the face of exasperating political and economic crises, whether or not to stay within the barest framework of constitutional democracy.


This distinctive position enjoyed by the Philippines in Southeast Asia could not have come about by accident. Neither is it a recent twentieth-century phenomenon. The first national revolution in colonial Asia was launched by the Filipinos against Spain in 1896. Whether this was primarily because Spanish colonial policy was one of the very harshest, historians cannot agree. But one thing cannot be disputed: in 1896, only the Filipinos, of all colonial subjects in Asia, found themselves sufficiently a nation to assert their right to independence in a full-dress revolution.

There had been, of course, many regional uprisings. Ilocanos in Northern Luzon, Pampango and Tagalogs in Central Luzon, Boholanos in the Visayas, all afire with the impatience of the Malay but not yet quite a nation, these had been separately challenging Spanish rule since the sixteenth century. There also were frustrated rebellions against the British, the French and the Dutch in other Asian lands. But what was it that hastened the maturing of Philippine nationalism so that fully 50 years ahead of all others in Asia it erupted into a successful revolution and a constitutional republic?

For this the Spaniards themselves would, paradoxically but perhaps not without reason, now like to take credit. They have argued that in 1893 the Philippines was the most economically advanced and most Westernized country in Asia. Even Filipino economic historians would admit a basic truth in this. The operations of foreign merchants (mostly British and American), which the Spaniards allowed in the country in the nineteenth century, put ready cash into the hands of the Filipinos. One of the important results was that there arose a Filipino middle class which began to demand educational and political reforms and finally provided the intellectual leadership for the revolution.

But middle-class leaders must have a nation to lead. If economics must be credited for stimulating the formation of a middle class, where lies the credit for spreading the formation of the nation? As Arnold Toynbee has noted, "The Philippines are unique in having a North American as well as a Spanish chapter in their history--unique and also lucky, because Spain and the United States are complementary to one another as representatives of different elements in the Western Christian civilization." He credits Spanish Christianity for hastening the fusion of Filipino nationhood, and, moving further into the twentieth century, credits our American experience with contributing to what he calls "Filipino optimism." He does not find it necessary to mention that when the Americans arrived, the Philippines were in the act of inaugurating a full-dress republic, founded on a constitution duly enacted by convention.

If mention of this is unnecessary in an analysis of Filipino nationhood, the allusion does help us to start off on the right foot in evaluating Philippine-American relations. The Spanish Army, cornered in the Walled City of Intramuros for the most part by the Filipino Army, chose, in order to save its pride, to surrender to the American General. This is an essential bit of history that the fair-minded American of today should consider in pondering the beginnings of Philippine-American intimacy. Another is the fact that two years later ambassadors of the Philippine Republic pleaded in vain for recognition by the world powers, including the United States, and pleaded just as vainly to prevent the signing of the Treaty of Paris which transferred Philippine territory to the United States for $20,000,000.

But the American of the late nineteenth century, no less fair-minded, we must presume, than his mid-twentieth-century counterpart, had obviously a much more limited choice of alternatives in the field of big-power-small-power relations. Assuming President McKinley's justification of "protection" to be valid, assuming the presence of a colony-hungry German navy outside Manila Bay, what action was available to effect this protection? President Eisenhower today can invoke "aid" to build the country economically, "mutual security pacts" to protect it from preying imperialists. But McKinley, living in a less progressive age and caught in the fever of empire that had contaminated his own nation, had a much poorer alternative: outright occupation.

Against this setting fashioned by the play of nineteenth century forces the performance of both Filipinos and Americans must now be judged.


No one, not even the "political transmission" writers of the Communist Party, dare suggest to the Filipinos today that their experience with the United States did not bring with it a substantial measure of training in the art of republican democracy. The constitutional forms and establishments which the political orator would now swear to defend with his life are mostly copies of American institutions, not suddenly adopted on the eve of independence but introduced early in the occupation and absorbed, at times painfully, over a period of almost 50 years.

When the Philippines became a republic in 1946, her democracy was a going concern. The middle class that had gotten its start in the last century of Spanish rule had considerably expanded, a strong civil service (later to be weakened by patronage incursions) was ready to provide administrative continuity, a respected group of elders headed an independent judiciary, and the country had behind it a tradition in the separation of powers. It had just gone through an intense ten-year period of training in outright presidential democracy in the transitional "Commonwealth," which was interrupted by the Japanese occupation. For 40 years it had been prepared for the presidential system which was later to give it a stability enjoyed by few others in Asia. At its inception, the Second Philippine Republic, still the first in colonial Asia, enjoyed an advantage quite unique in this area: it knew where it was going. And this is why even the most acid critic of America would now grant that her administration of Philippine affairs was "benevolent."

But it is in the economic field that our American experience is today stripped bare and subjected to the most meticulous and merciless scrutiny. Granted all the personal liberty, the early suffrage, the universal education, the political stability--of what use is all this when the masses of our people were maintained in their historical status of "hewers of wood and drawers of water"? Did not the United States merely perpetuate our colonial economy, keeping us as providers of the raw materials for her giant industries, enriching a few sugar barons and coconut exporters but subjecting the millions to continued serfdom?

Charges such as these are not infrequently to be read in the press or heard on the floor of our Congress, openly or in thinly veiled insinuations, particularly in debates on attracting foreign capital. Spoken in a period of intense reëxamination of our economy and feverish planning for industrialization, they are not to be dismissed as leftist demagoguery.

The Payne-Aldrich Tariff Law of 1906 was the cornerstone of Philippine-American economic relations. More than that, it set the pattern for Philippine economic development. For the free-trade relationship which it established naturally encouraged the cultivation of technical crops for absorption in the American market. With the high income from the export of sugar, copra, hemp, lumber and minerals, the Filipinos were able to import all their consumer requirements free of tariff from the United States. The result was, of course, a continuation of the agricultural economy of the Spanish era. Anyone who dared put up an industry for consumer products had to compete with the quality, tariff-free, mass-produced imports from America. And American investors found no incentive for putting capital into an area where they could readily and with less risk sell goods manufactured at home.

The Payne-Aldrich Law has been defended on the ground that it was enacted at a time when no one, not even the Filipinos themselves, could definitely tell whether the Philippines was headed for ultimate statehood, "dominion status" or independence. It is pointed out that some American states, like Montana, remain largely unindustrialized suppliers of agricultural and mineral products for general or industrial consumption in other States of the Union. There is something to be said for this defense. As late as 1941, some Filipino political and economic leaders (who would now consider themselves ardent nationalists) were agitating for a "realistic reëxamination" of the independence question.

However, by successive executive pronouncements, the United States as early as 1906 was already committed to eventual Philippine independence. It would seem that American preparation of the country for political independence is not to be matched by her performance in preparing it for economic self-sufficiency. However, a few considerations are here in order.

It is not too difficult to tear down an old political structure and build up a new one. This the Americans did, when they supplanted the Spanish colonial system with a new political order. It is not as easy to tear down an old economic structure. For this is usually rooted in landholdings, in the social complex, in such less tangible things as family relations, superstition and tradition.

Furthermore, just as our cultural optimism and political stability are not simply the marks of our race but are also the products of many centuries of paradoxical forces, and just as we did not achieve by chance our now-victimized civil service, neither is it an accident that today we can boast of the widest entrepreneurial and technical base in Southeast Asia. In fairness, this must be attributed in substantial measure to the impact of universal education, introduced by the Americans to a people already gifted with a forward cultural outlook.

Again, the encouragement of agriculture per se does not necessarily mean developing a colonial economy. The successful industrial development of free nations, the most notable recent example of which is Australia, has invariably begun with successful agricultural development which provided both the foreign exchange and the raw materials for native mills and factories. What gave our agricultural economy its colonial tinge was its combination with free trade. Once free trade ceased or was modified, the beneficent, nay, indispensable effect of agriculture on industry immediately became evident. High in the priority list prepared by our National Economic Council are those industries which process locally grown or mined raw materials. And, of course, our foreign exchange reserves are to a great degree generated by our agricultural and mineral exports.

Indeed, a fairer criticism would seem to be not that there was too much emphasis on agriculture but that there was not enough. Huge tracts of land remain uncultivated and there is little scientific farming on those that are cultivated. This condition may be traced in part to the American quota system which offered no encouragement to produce more than could be admitted to the United States duty-free. But it must also be traced to other things, such as the tenancy system which is just now emerging from its semi-feudal state.

In 1937 a Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs was created by the Philippine Commonwealth and the United States Government in order to correct, before independence in 1946, the inadequate situation brought about by free trade. Before its recommendations could be implemented, the Pacific War broke out.

The devastation of war, of course, compounded the economic difficulty. To the problem of trade reorientation was added one of higher priority--rehabilitation. With the help of U.S. War Damage payments, reconstruction was largely completed by 1950 and the country entered into a period of development and limited industrialization. Adjustment to termination of duty-free relations with the United States is currently taking place through the instrumentality of the Bell Act, as amended by the Laurel-Langley Agreement.

Due to their stubborn resistance, the Filipinos suffered the greatest damage among all Japanese-occupied peoples in the war. They also have been subjected to Tammany-style travesties on the democratic process by some of their politicians. In spite of this they have managed to stay ahead of most of their neighbors in a material sense and have made spectacular gains in their struggle for readjustment and economic expansion. Between 1949 and 1957 over 13,700 new manufacturing firms were registered, and the boomlet in industrial promotion has just begun. Food production has kept ahead of population increase. Exports have also increased accompanied by a noticeable rearrangement in the export trade. Sugar, desiccated coconut, inedible coconut oil, cigars, scrap and filler tobacco, pearl buttons and canned pineapple in 1940 constituted 60 percent of total domestic exports (excluding gold and embroideries), valued at 221 million pesos. In 1957 they formed only 30 percent of the total, worth 853 million pesos. The most vigorous postwar growth in the export sector was manifested by copra, logs, lumber and base metals. A wider distribution of foreign trade has reduced United States purchases of Philippine exports from a prewar 75 percent of the total to 52 percent in 1957. Japanese and Northwestern European purchases have accounted for most of the balance.

The pace of industrialization is reflected in the curve of consumer goods imports. In 1949, they constituted 47 percent of total imports, valued at 1,172 million pesos. In 1957, they went down to 22 percent of a total of 1,129 million pesos. On the other hand, capital goods went up from 10 to 20 percent and raw materials from 43 to 58 percent.

An indication of the consistent record of Philippine growth is the country's sustained position as third highest in recorded annual per capita income among all the ECAFE countries (stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the northeast). She is surpassed only by highly industrialized Japan and rubber-rich Malaya.

Yet much more must be done--not in the vague future but as soon as resources allow. The lives of millions in the provinces have as yet been hardly touched by economic development. An urgent drive to provoke Philippine capital into leaving bamboo safes and entering productive enterprises is succeeding. It has become so popular that Congress is preparing regulatory measures, patterned after American legislation to prevent abuse. And last April, in answer to demands of private business for relief from foreign exchange controls, the administration decided to introduce partial decontrol on non-essential and non-governmental items.

But Philippine capacity to form capital is limited. Our needs and wants, on the other hand, appear unlimited. And we cannot afford to save from present consumption the resources required to realize all of them. The way out of the vicious circle is foreign capital.


In 1959, the "Filipino First" policy was born as a campaign slogan of the majority party. While it did not succeed in saving from defeat national candidates favored by the administration--even with the help of a split opposition--the concept had some justification.

Its justification is found primarily in the preëminent position held by the more than half a million Chinese in the distributive trades, in village retailing and urban finance, just as their countrymen do in varying degrees in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. It is this situation which prompts us to continue recognizing Nationalist China rather than to give a Red Embassy in Manila a chance to coerce a ready-made economic empire into subversive action. The problem is so big that it cannot be considered simply in economic terms but in terms of national security.

Communists and extremists have tried with some success to give the policy an anti-American twist. Those who would use it for the laudable purpose of reducing the economic power of the Chinese population are denounced as blind Sinophobes, and the people are reminded that the real enemy is American imperialism. The administration was faced with the necessity of dissociating itself from this Communist propaganda and at the same time making sure that its policy did not collide with its proclaimed desire to attract American and European capital.

One manifestation of its concern over these problems was the recent celebrated case of the President's unsolicited invitation to the United States to base missiles in the Philippines. While the invitation received immediate popular support, some saw it as a patent effort to dispel any fears that the administration might be weakening in its firm policies regarding national security. Encouraged by the wide acceptance of this sudden action, the President has since then made several public statements urging a sobering of the "Filipino First" movement. In this he shows signs of following in the footsteps of other Asian countries, notably India, which have sheared off extremist nationalist fringes in order not to impede national development and the requirements of international economics. This is particularly evident in the matter of attracting foreign capital. The trend has, of course, disconcerted the Communists, whose aim has been to discourage foreign investments in Asia and thus prove the incapacity of free enterprise to give sufficient relief to underdeveloped economies.

There is also a growing awareness of the accomplishments of U.S. Government lending agencies, though the recent "Buy American" condition has not made local industrial promoters happy. Many of these find European and Japanese capital equipment better suited to their requirements. Moreover, the move has slowed down the trend toward a fairer appreciation of American intentions in Asia.

Some concern is also expressed here and in other Asian capitals over the dubious attitude taken by the United States towards the proposal to internationalize foreign aid and lending among non-Communist nations. Such a move would eliminate the fear of "colonialism" which continues to haunt the political outlook of former dependent areas and hampers their development. There are obvious legislative, diplomatic and cross-accounting difficulties in the scheme which must be threshed out among the donor nations, but a firm statement by the United States in general support of it would have the same effect as, say, an unequivocal statement against colonialism in Africa--a renewed confidence in American free-world leadership.

In his recent book "Democracy Is Not Enough,"[i] John Scott takes a hard look at the underdeveloped lands of Asia and prescribes a sort of moratorium on democracy in order to permit them to concentrate on lifting their living standards. The Philippines is one of the countries he would exclude from this radical prescription, along with India, Japan and Malaya. It would be more useful, perhaps, to consider them as examples to inspire rather than as exceptions to be envied. In any case, whether or not the Philippines will continue as one of the pace setters will depend on how far the current stirrings in favor of fundamental changes in our political structure can carry. The shape of our country in the years to come is being fashioned in this generation by citizens who have learnt the secret of permanent and rapid political and economic development--namely, the maximum participation of the people.

The most promising economic program will fail unless the people contribute their optimum output to its realization. Communist China knows this and is attempting to raise output forcibly by such monstrous methods as the communes. In India, dedicated men like Jayaprakash Narayan are seeking to reawaken in the Panchayats the self-reliance of the Indian villager, thereby to refashion Indian polity on indigenous bases. In the Philippines, the barrio revolution begun by Ramon Magsaysay has matured into private and official movements to revive the spirit of bayanihan, the original unwritten rule of village self-help which had been buried under the mass of initiative-robbing positive law descended from the national government, colonial and independent alike. The ultimate success of democratic Asian nationalism will come when the Indian way and the Philippine way--alike in being the way of free, voluntary initiative--are able to demonstrate conclusively that liberty, justice and God need not be jettisoned in order to allow the people to work for the satisfaction of their temporal wants.

Meanwhile, because of our over-centralization, our electoral system, the many faults of our constitutional structure, it could be said that in the Philippines we may not have democracy at its best but we do have democracy at its hardest. Such a judgement, while critical of the system, is a tribute to the people. The important thing is that it is democracy and that it is working. And in the irrepressible optimism of the people and their deep-seated faith in the superiority of free enterprise lies a promise that here democracy will someday be at its best. Herein lies our claim to the understanding and support of free nations.

[i] New York: Harcourt, 1960.

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  • RAUL S. MANGLAPUS, former Undersecretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines; a leader of the Progressive Party
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