What Was the Independence Act?
In 1934 the vague American promise that some day the Philippine Islands would be set free to govern themselves as an independent nation was put into the relatively exact terms of law. The Tydings-McDuffie or Philippine Independence Act of that year did not give precise and final answers to all the questions of future Philippine-United States relations. But it went very far in laying down the lines of procedure for an orderly and mutually agreeable transfer of the reins of government from American to Philippine hands.
The law called upon the Filipinos to draw up a constitution and submit it to the president of the United States and to the people of the islands for approval. This constitution was required to provide for a republican form of government, to contain a bill of rights, and to guarantee certain things to the United States pending the day of final independence. For instance, the United States retained complete or partial control of foreign relations, finances, defenses, and so on.
After a period of ten years of gradual withdrawal, usually called the “Commonwealth” period, all connection was to be severed. The only exceptions concerned arrangements for continued American use of naval reservations and fueling stations. These were left for negotiation after July 4, 1946, the scheduled day of complete independence. Arrangements for future commercial relations were to be negotiated before that date.
This program was in process of being carried out, with some hitches and some misgivings as to whether it could be really successful, when the outbreak of war and the Japanese invasion put it on the shelf. Later events have not altered the American intention to see that the Philippines become independent, but those events have made desirable some reconsideration of the details of the independence program.
Who were the Philippine leaders?
The story of the American administration in the islands would be incomplete without some account of the Filipinos who co-operated with our officials even while they struggled with the United States to attain their ever desired independence.
The Philippines have produced a number of excellent public servants, but two have stood out all during the years. They are the late president, Manuel L. Quezon, and the present president, Sergio Osmeña.
Manuel Quezon was a major in the Filipino army that fought against the Americans. He was a brilliant young lawyer who left his profession to enter politics. His first office was the governorship of Tayabas, his native province. Up a ladder of other offices he climbed to become, after 1916, the acknowledged leader of the Filipinos at home and the most ardent advocate of their cause before the American Congress and people. He led many missions to the United States, returning from one of them with the Independence Act, which his people readily accepted. Two years earlier he had opposed an almost identical independence measure brought back by Osmeña.
Quezon was a brilliant and courageous man, a keen and resourceful politician, impulsive, generous, and strong-willed. Though vain, his love of country outweighed love of self. He became to his people the symbol of freedom, of Philippine nationalism.
As was to be expected, Quezon was elected the first president of the Commonwealth. When the constitution was amended to shorten the term of the presidency and to permit re-election for one term, he was returned to office. His administration of the Philippine Commonwealth was characterized by the phrase “social justice.” He instituted many reforms and fought to gain better living and working conditions for his people. In many of these he and his government were successful.
Sergio Osmeña, who succeeded to the presidency of the Philippines upon Quezon’s death in August 1944, is a man whose public career paralleled in many ways that of his predecessor. Born in Cebu, he studied law and was for a short time a newspaper editor. He became the first Filipino governor of his province under the Americans. In 1907 he was elected the first Speaker of the Assembly, and was the Number One political figure in the country for the next decade. After 1922 Osmeña took second place to Quezon in national politics.
Naturally these two prominent Filipino leaders opposed each other frequently on minor issues. But they were always united in their desire to secure freedom for their country, and differences between them were always reconciled-to Mr. Quezon’s advantage.
President Osmeña has always had a large following in his own central islands, and is a man who is known and respected throughout the Philippines. Less colorful than his predecessor, he is generally considered more of a statesman, and it is apparent that he has frequently sacrificed personal ambition and prestige in the interest of his country.
At the same time, Osmeña represents the same party and the same interests as Quezon, and is indeed much more conservative than the latter. His relations with the Americans have been very good. This augurs well for continuing relationships between the two countries during a difficult period. The test of his vision and statesmanship is at hand now that General MacArthur has restored to him and his government the control of the Philippines and he must face the old problems and the new.
What’s in the Philippine constitution?
As required by the Independence Act, the Filipinos drafted a constitution in 1934. It was approved by President Roosevelt and by an overwhelming majority of the Filipino people. Competent authorities consider it a workmanlike document and one well suited to Philippine conditions. It is republican in form, contains a bill of rights, and a declaration of principles. It can be amended.
Notable were the provisions for a one-house legislative body—the National Assembly—and for a six-year term of office for the president and vice-president. Re-election of the president was prohibited. The constitution was amended, however, in 1940 to add an upper house and change the presidential term to four years, with re-election for one term being permitted.
Such restrictions as were placed upon the government of the Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands were those deemed necessary in view of the fact that the United States was still sovereign in the islands. Foreign affairs continued under the control of the United States. No acts affecting currency, foreign trade, or immigration could become law without the approval of the president of the United States. The United States retained rights to maintain armed forces and military and other reservations in the Philippines during the Commonwealth period. Decisions of Commonwealth courts were subject to review by the United States Supreme Court. Pending the final withdrawal of the sovereignty of the United States, all citizens and officers of the Commonwealth owed allegiance to the United States.
A United States high commissioner to the Philippines was appointed by the president to represent him in the Philippines. Among his obligations was that of watching over currency matters and financial affairs. The Commonwealth was represented in Washington by a resident commissioner appointed by the Philippine president. He was to be spokesman for his government and people in Washington. He had a seat in our House of Representatives but not the right to vote.