Future of the Philippines: Sergio Osmeña

  1. Manuel L. Quezon
  2. Future of the Philippines
  3. Governor-General Leonard Wood
Sergio Osmeña.jpg

Sergio Osmeña, long of great, if not decisive, weight in the public life of the Philippines—he held the speakership of the popular chamber continuously for fifteen years—was 47 on September 9, 1925. He is clean-cut in face and figure, morally earnest, intellectually acute and powerful, unassuming and charming in manner, and remarkably young looking. In his veins is a generous dash of Chinese blood. His appearance is strikingly Chinese and his temperament and mind suggest Chinese rather than Filipino genius. But he is an ardent, if restrained, Filipino patriot.

Only one other man in Filipino politics—if, indeed, there by one—can be mentioned in the same breath with Osmeña, and that is Senate President Manuel L. Quezon. Quezon has a large admixture of Spanish blood, looks Spanish and shows Spanish temperamental qualities, but he, too, is an ardent Filipino patriot. There hardly could be a sharper contrast then that between these two men. Quezon is blunt, vigorous, affirmative, rather scornful. Osmeña is refined, considerate, moderate in words, sagacious, fair in judgment, given to relatively little utterance and much thought.

Both men, however—Quezon is slightly the younger—are strong featured, have graceful, well-knit physiques, and esteem smartness of dress. There is latent political rivalry between them. At one time this rivalry issued in a definite rift and Quezon formed a new party to reduce the power of Osmeña. Eventually Osmeña and Quezon consolidated their parties and now work together at the head of the nacionalistas, the majority party, with the democrata party, a strong organization, in opposition. How long this teamwork will survive the potentially conflicting personalities, views, and methods of the Chinese-Filipino and the Spanish-Filipino is uncertain, but their mutual passion for independence may keep them in double harness a good while.

Leaders of the Nationalist Party.

Educated in law, philosophy, and letters, and possessing a mind of flexibility and depth, Osmeña has been distinguished in the upbuilding of Philippine institutions and in the technical discussion of Philippine constitutional questions from the first days of the civil government following the defeat of the forces of Aguinaldo. Born in the city of Cebu, province of Cebu, among the southern islands, he was a prime figure in local politics, and in 1906, when the Provincial Governors met in Manila to pave the way for the Philippine Assembly, they chose this young statesman as their presiding officer. His political star has been steadily in the ascendent since.

“You consider there is great moral substance to the claim of the Filipinos to independence?”

Filipino Passion for Independence.

Senator Osmeña and I were sitting alone at a tea table in his charming drawing room on a high point in Manila.

“Great moral substance,” said he, his expression something between a smile and a reminiscent sadness, “inheres in any struggle that has cost a people dearly, that exemplifies an aim more precious to them than life, and that inspires them with ever-growing deliberation and tenacity of purpose. Hearing some comments upon the ambition of the Filipinos for a country absolutely their own, one would be inclined to regard this ambition as a new-born thing, as a frivolous thing, as an insincere thing, as a shallow and ephemeral sentiment.

“It is anything but that. Filipinos have been in moral revolt against foreign domination for an indefinite time. Out of this smoldering fire burst the flames of war first against Spain and then against the United States. Those wars were fought with all that the Filipinos could put into them. Generalship among our leaders attained a high level and there never was any question of the valor of our rank and file. It was an uneven struggle. We carried on as long as we could. Our morale did not fail—not even when our flag came down—but our physical resources did.

“Our national aspiration for freedom survived our disasters in the field. Upon those disasters, indeed, it fed and from them it gained strength. Our heroes, both the known and the unknown, and all the memories of what we had gone through, worked silently but powerfully in the souls of our people. Filipinos said, ‘Heroic things have been done. Filipino women no less than Filipino men have shown themselves great. We were defeated, not because we deserved to be, not because we were stupid or cowardly or in any way unworthy, but because we were materially overwhelmed. A great price has been paid. It cannot be, it shall not be, that that price shall have been paid in vain.’ That is what our people said. Those were the mute musings of their hearts.

Filipino Depression in Defeat.

“Mute musings they were for only a time. They were such only while we were in the black shadow of our defeat. American sovereignty spread quickly throughout the islands. Filipinos prominent in the war stood aloof from the partially autonomous provincial and municipal governments set up by the Americans. An impression was produced that every vestige of the Philippine Republic was gone—institutions, flag, the very soul of the Republic, our aspiration for independence. But that impression was delusive. It was utterly false. There were those mute musings I have mentioned, and they were not long in finding articulate and unmistakeable expression.

“We had fought for independence in the field and had lost. What happened then? There was a limited and fleeting surface sentiment for annexation to the United States—for federalism. This sentiment or suggestion had nothing to do with the deep impulses of the people. It belonged to the flotsam and jetsam of confused political thought. Filipinos, as to leadership and as to the masses, almost immediately realized that the aspiration to be free was irrepressible, and that the struggles for independence begun in war must be continued in peace.”

Working Toward Self-government.

“And how did the surviving political energy and purpose of the people reveal themselves?”

“They revealed themselves in widespread interest in public affairs an in vigorous co-operation with the Americans in the development of a rudimentary Filipino State. Our people took hold of the problems of provincial and local government with enthusiasm and intelligence, and the men of outstanding gifts for leadership set to work to construct a national government. We were given the Philippine Assembly, with representation on the Legislative Commission, and later—Aug. 29, 1916, a luminous day in Filipino history—the autonomous machinery of the Jones law, our Magna Charta. Solemnly and unequivocally, in that law, the American people, through their constitutional representatives, pledged themselves to grant our independence.

“Through almost a full decade the Philippine Assembly, with extraordinary diligence and wisdom, progressively demonstrated the political capacity of the Filipinos. In this work the leaders were guided and sustained by public opinion throughout the archipelago. There was no political lethargy. All the people were as keen as were their chosen representatives to show the world that doubts and misgivings touching our experiment, the first to be tried among a Malayan people subject to the sovereignty of another, were unwarranted. Our electoral battles were contested sharply in the midst of universal attention and the vast majority of our voters went to the polls on election day.

Tests of the Philippine Assembly.

“Our parliamentarians, from the opening hours of their opportunity, displayed a consciousness of our national peculiarities, traditions, and culture and also disclosed parliamentary originality. We were not noncreative. We were not blind copyists. We made many departures from American parliamentary practice and should have made more except for the dual nature of our form of government and the desirability of adopting methods and procedure with which the Americans were familiar. In our Assembly, for example, we avoided two evils—excessive power in a few hands and parliamentary prostration. We preserved the democratic principle in our organization of the House and yet secured the prompt dispatch of public business. Our majority was made effective, but not tyrannical. Though the minority at no time exceeded 20 per cent. of the membership, it was given chairmanships of committees, contrary to the practice int the American Lower House. We believed thoroughly in a minority cohesive and efficient as a vital part of a sound democratic legislature.

“Concern for the good of the people has been conspicuous in the whole of our parliamentary life. We knew we were on trial. Every member loved his country, longed for its independence, and consequently was actuated by a high sense of responsibility. Dereliction wore the color of treason. Expected fratricidal antagonisms did not develop. Debates were earnest and sometimes fiery. We have had our tumultuous sessions, as do all the legislatures of the world, even the oldest and most dignified. But, the debates over, the conflicting standpoints put with all the brilliance and force their partisans could command, we all were friends and sincerely indulged in the usual expressions of courtesy and generosity. Our legislative halls are not bear gardens, firmly though some foreign observers believed they would be.”

Enacting Beneficial Legislation.

“What is your record relative to popular education?”

“Our first measure—the first measure of the Assembly—was an act appropriating a million pesos ($500,000) to build and equip schools in the barrios. Hard words are used about Filipino leaders or politicos. They are represented as disposed to intrench themselves in power and exploit an ignorant and helpless people. If they were so disposed, why should they foster education? Why should they be doing all in their power to produce an educated citizenry? American schools we want to preserve. Every means of elementary and of advanced education we want to promote.

“There is no spirit in the world more democratic than is that of the Filipino nation, and its abused leaders hold positions of leadership only because of their representative character. If these men entertained wicked designs of exploitation, they would not be found appropriating all the national exchequer will bear for primary instruction, for higher special courses for teachers, and for the establishment of an institution such as the University of the Philippines. Education, as everyone knows, is the relentless and resistless foe of wrong and of tyranny.”

Popular Passion for Independence.

“Is there any considerable body of Filipino opinion against immediate and complete independence?”

“No, sir. There may be a few—a very few—men who do not want independence. They are absolutely anti-typical. They are men who think of their money first and of their country afterward. They have no public influence. There is not and never has been a Filipino national party opposed to independence. No man against independence ever has been or can be elected to a post of any kind in the Philippine islands. Our people’s one passion that never will cool and their one vision that never will grow dim are the passion for and the vision of freedom. After all, love of liberty is a universal and immemorial human emotion.”

“Why should some of your rich men be afraid of independence?”

Unity of the Filipino Peoples.

“There is no just reason for them to be afraid of independence. Most of them are not. But there are a few whose peculiar mentality and whose special interests and connections turn them away from the independence movement. Both life and property would be perfectly safe under Filipino sovereignty. We have proved our capacity to govern.”

“What is your attitude to American capital?”

“Our attitude to all foreign capital is friendly, so long as its investment does not move in directions inimical to the principle of the Philippines for the Filipinos. Every nation has an inalienable right to safeguard its national patrimony.”

“What is the actual position between the Filipinos and the non-Christian elements in the island?”

Christian and Non‑Christian Filipinos.

“In the first place, we all—Christian and non-Christian—are Filipinos. Religious and ethnologic differences we have as have other nations, but we all are Filipinos. Our national psychic identity has been increasing in definiteness and in vitality with great rapidity for a quarter of a century. This development grew naturally out of improved communications of every kind, insular and interinsular, and out of the diffusioni of education and cultural influences of all descriptions. Linked together as a nation geographically and acquiring therefrom a distinct national destiny, our peoples long were kept spiritually more or less apart by impassable distances and by a lack of a universal tongue.

“But good roads, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, safe and quick inter-island ships and a marvelous awakening of popular intelligence have brought our spiritual and mental unity into precise conformity with our geographical unity. This outcome, of course, was certain from the first. It was only a question of time. We now get national decisions on great public matters as readily and as accurately as they are obtained in the most advanced societies.

“Now, with reference to the Moros and the pagans. Supposed irreconcilable hostility between them and the Christian Filipinos is a myth. It is a myth built up and assiduously propagated by two foreign dominations. These dominations strengthened themselves by weakening Filipinos through division. Their theory was to rule by dividing. During the seven years of our greatest degree of autonomy—1914 to 1921—when Filipinos were given relatively a free hand in dealing with the non-Christians, the wall of prejudice deliberately constructed between them and their Christian Filipino brothers was torn down. We got on with the non-Christians harmoniously. They shared with us the consciousness of nationhood. Our language difficulty—the language difficulty of the Philippines as a whole—has been exaggerated to the point of grotesqueness. Everyone opposed to independence descants upon our numerous dialects and their fancied segregating and nationally disintegrating operation. In truth, three dialects are a key to the entire Filipino mind, not to mention the constant spread of English.”

“There has been continuity of purpose and practice in your legislative development?”

Genuine Legislative Development.

“Absolutely. We did not build thoughtlessly. Principles were our guide. We had knowledge of history and of the tried maxims of free government. Besides, we had our own experience of civilized life—our long contact with Western ideas—and our own separate and unique racial inspiration. There is no other way to constitute a national organism—no other way than by consultation of racial fundamentals in the light of the common culture of the world. We did that. If we had done otherwise—if we had depended altogether upon foreign experience and thought—our title to independence would not be what it is. No great oak can rise from or rest upon anything but its own far-spreading roots. Any student of our parliamentarism will have no trouble in picking out its proofs of originality and catholic eclecticism. I may remark, in passing, that we adopted the national budgetary system some years before the United States adopted it and that our secretaries of departments have the right to appear on the floor of the houses of the legislature.”

“What is the crux of the trouble between the Philippine Legislature and the Governor-General?”

Interpreting the Jones Law.

“Antagonistic interpretations of our organic law—the Jones law. It is a constitutional controversy. We hold that the intent of the law was to confer complete internal autonomy upon the Filipino nation. I say ‘internal autonomy.’ I recognize without question the right and the duty of the United States, having regard to tis responsibilities in the existing situation, to exercise sovereignty over our external relations. I do not contend that we legally can take away from the United States the attributes and functions of sovereignty. But I do contend that the Jones law gives us, and was designed to gi ve us, unrestricted freedom in the weaving of a fabric of internal political and social economy. It is, in my opinion, inconsistent with the purpose of the Jones law for the Governor-General to veto any act of the Legislature affecting exclusively our domestic affairs. At the heart of the Jones law, as I understand it, is the intention to liberate the Philippine Legislature to act wisely or foolishly, according to its own volition, in developing a democratic government in these islands. We say to the United States, ‘Let us hammer out our own shape upon the anvil of experience’.”

“Do you not accept the American constitutional principle of the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers?”

The Constitution Does Not Apply.

“That principle does not apply to the Philippines. Our basic law is not derived from the American Constitution. Our government is not of the Presidential type. Let me explain. Parenthood of the Jones law is found in the act of the American Congress of July 1, 1902, and the predecessor of that act was McKinley’s command to the Philippine Commission. Neither the act nor the command, organically, is based on the Constitution of the United States. Immediately, their source is the American system of territorial government—more particularly the Jeffersonian plan for the government of Louisiana—and, remotely, the system of colonial government existing in America before the thirteen colonies obtained their independence. In none of the organic charters of the American colonies, nor in any American territorial law, is there identity with the type of government established by the Constitution of the United States. Obviously our Government is not of the Presidential type. We have no President. Our supreme executive is not elected by our people and is responsible to a foreign government. Categorically, moreover, the Supreme Court of the United States has declared that ‘the Constitution did not follow the flag into the Philippines.’ Like a golden threat, through American law and through all American utterances of high official authority, runs the theory that the American people and their statesmen always have meant that the Philippines should develop according to their own genius and should be free.”

“You have no doubt a free Philippines would be peaceful itself and peace-conserving?”

Peace for a Free Philippines.

“None. We are a peaceful people. We are a law-respecting people. We are a property-cherishing people. We work hard. We ask nothing of America and the world except to let us follow unfettered our path of destiny. We shall cause no trouble. We are not uninstructed in either the arts or the proprieties of diplomacy. Nobody will bother us when America removes her sovereignty. National ambitions are not running in the direction of strife now. Governments and peoples want peace. Statesmen are going into the international council chamber instead of dispatching field marshals at the head of troops. I feel the world is on the threshold of that peace for which it has paid so much and for which it has waited so long.”

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  1. Manuel L. Quezon
  2. Future of the Philippines
  3. Governor-General Leonard Wood