Governor-General Leonard Wood

  1. Sergio Osmeña
  2. Future of the Philippines
Leonard Wood.jpg

Photograph by Thompson, Manila, P. I.

Maj.-Gen. Leonard Wood, Governor-General of the Philippine Islands, is probably without a rival, Caucasian or non-Caucasian, in his knowledge of the archipelago and the people for which he has supreme immediate responsibility. Certainly Gen. Wood is America’s greatest authority on the Philippine question—one of the most peculiar, important, and difficult questions that ever preoccupied American statesmanship.

Gen. Wood has come to know the Philippines as a result of prolonged first-hand study. This study has been unremittent for more than twenty years. Arriving in the islands in 1903, after his distinguished services in Cuba as Military Governor of Santiago and as Governor-General, he was appointed Governor of the Moro province, comprising the southern islands and some eighteen tribes. Gen. Wood was not only head of the Civil Government, with a Legislative Council, responsible for five districts, but Commanding General of the troops in the Department of Mindanao and Sulu.

For three years, in the capacities named, Gen. Wood was constantly among the people, frequently visiting every tribe and settlement. Then he became Military Commander of the Philippine Division, with headquarters in Manila, whence he continued his diligent investigations. Following this work, he studied the Philippines as chairman of the special mission of investigation, together with W. Cameran Forbes, and a staff of experts, in 1921.

This investigation lasted four months and covered forty-eight of the forty-nine provinces into which the islands are divided. It was a systematic and thorough investigation of all phases of Philippine conditions, geographic, climatic, natural, human, and governmental.

Out of these painstaking inquiries, reaching into 449 cities and towns and involving eleven weeks of travel by sea, rail, motor car, and horse, sprang the great classic on the Philippines—the Wood-Forbes Report to the Harding Administration. In this Report are embodied the fundamentals of the Philippine problem. It is full of illumination to the historical and philosophical mind. Its discoveries and conclusions were the priceless possession of Gen. Wood when he came to the Philippines as the chief officer of the sovereign power, and his knowledge of the islands and the islanders has been ripened and extended by four years of further traveling and by arduous administrative experience.

Gen. Wood, gray, ruddy, sturdy, dignified, received me in the Governor-General’s private office, Malacanang Palace, Manila. He sat in a wide, tall, dark hardwood chair, with bottom and back of cane, and talked rapidly in a low voice. His voice was so low that now and again I had difficulty in catching every word. For the most part the veteran soldier and administrator wore a look of seriousness, if not severity, but two or three times during the conversation his features relaxed, he smiled, and there was an extremely pleasant look in his blue eyes. He has character. He has magnetism. He has brains. He is not only a military man; he is a thinker and a statesman.

American Control Must Continue.

“What do all your inquiries, experience, and thought tell you we ought to do about the Philippines?” I asked the Governor-General.

“That we ought to see our great enterprise through,” he replied.

“That we ought to stay here indefinitely?”



“Because the work we set out to do is only begun. How long it will take no one can say. If we withdrew now, all we have done would be undone, our investment of blood and treasure would be wasted, twenty-five years of idealistic labor would be thrown away, the Filipino people would be heartlessly betrayed, and we should do a criminal disservice to the stability and the highest interest of the world.”

“You believe the Filipinos to be potentially capable of self-government?”

Education Must Come First.

“Potentially, yes. But to translate this potentiality into an actuality will take a long time—somewhere perhaps between a quarter and a half century. It is a matter of rearing and educating occidentally enough Filipinos to govern the country. There are far from enough now. Young educated people are still a small proportion of the population. We need more schools and teachers and a great extension of the English language, which alone can serve as a medium of psychological consolidation among peoples dispersed over thousands of islands and divided by eight-seven different dialects.”

“What are some of the evidences of latent Filipino capacity?”

“These people are property-loving and law-abiding. They are sympathetic, intelligent, hospitable, and neighborly. Their keenness for education is unsurpassed. Parents are willing to make almost any sacrifice to keep their children in school. Filipino teachers are zealous and hard-working. Intellectual activity is apparent in all directions. Political affairs receive more and more popular attention and there is a growing interest in public health and public works. Assimilability to western ideals is marked. Aptitude for politics and a desire to participate in government are conspicuous Filipino qualities.

“But all these things in the Philippines are merely tokens of what can be—not what is—in the way of capacity for self-government. Intellectualism is not a sufficient qualification for the tasks of statecraft and administration. Intellectualism, indeed, may be an evil rather than a good. It is an evil if, as in the Philippines, it tends to run ahead of the more substantial virtues of character. Before you have a government you must have a country to govern; you must have agriculture, industry, commerce, and finance. You must have credit. Too many educated Filipino minds are dazzled by political and professional ambition, too few attracted by the harder and more important tasks of maintaining a civilized society.

Folly That Brought Retrogression.

“That the Filipinos have undeveloped gifts for government has been proved by American experience in the islands. Our earlier efforts here were well-conceived and skillfully executed. They bore excellent fruit. We were making splendid progress. Our Filipino pupils in the theory and practice of democracy, responding eagerly to the experience, ideals, methods, and authority of the Americans, acquired discipline, efficiency, thoroughness, a high sense of responsibility. Then injudicious idealism entered. A great folly was committed. Excessive and too rapid Filipinization from 1914 to 1921 eliminated American experience and installed Filipino inexperience to such an extent that there was an all-around retrogression, legislative, executive, and judicial and in the Philippine Constabulary.

“We must return to our old slow-but-sure method; short cuts are alluring but perilous. I do not mean that the system inaugurated by the Jones law—the system of house and senate and sovereign executive—must be abandoned. It probably should be somewhat modified and it certainly should be made to work. It will not work during the period of our back-sliding in the Philippines. There was not a strict performance of the duties of the Governor-General under the law. There was too much surrendering of executive authority, combined with too much legislative usurpation, interference of political leaders in the general supervision and control of departments and bureaus and the infection of the civil service with politics. Disastrous socialistic experiments were made and the Philippine National bank lost $35,000,000 gold—one of the darkest pages in Philippine history. It has been my work, with the unmistakable good will of the people—of every one but a few leaders—to restore the authority of the Governor-General under the law.”

Self-Rule Would Bring Disaster.

“What do you think would be the immediate results of our leaving?”

“Strife, disorder, bloodshed. They might not come instantly but they would come soon. Moros, whom we have disarmed and who want us to stay and protect them, and Christian Filipinos would fight. Industry, trade, and credit would be ruined, with the inevitable concomitants of idleness, hunger, and anarchy. We should look back upon the plight of these 12,000,000 people, who never have known what it means to defend or sustain themselves, who never have known any freedom except what our flag has given them—we should look back upon their plight with national sorrow, pity, and shame. Japanese would come in, not necessarily as an army, but with their vigorous business methods, and Chinese would swarm hither for all sorts of pursuits. As I have said to Filipino friends, ‘Chinese would hold your valleys; you fellows would be sitting on the hilltops.’”

“What that be all?”

Unsettling the Far East.

“No; that would not be all. We should unsettle the Pacific and the Far East. We should create a situation replete with siniser possibilities. Political impotence, social disorganization, and intertribal conflicts in the Philippines would not be allowed to continue for a great while. Civilized strength, from one quarter or another, would move toward this vortex of trouble and suffering and such a movement might precipitate the worst consequences. In any event, the hope of Philippine independence would be dashed for ages if not for all time. Filipino leaders should be able to see these dangers, but they see only a vision of personal power. They are insensate to encompassing realities. They are bent upon gambling with the fate of their own people and with the peace of the Pacific.

“Conceivably, this peace might not be broken, but the risk is there, and if there were no other consideration in the matter, that risk should impose upon America a sacred obligation to hold the Philippines until it is reasonably sure that all such peril is past.”

“Our presence here, in existing conditions, is needed on the side of the Occident?”

Benefits for Oriental Peoples.

“It is needed on the side of both Occident and Orient. Equilibrium between them promises stability; disequilibrium threatens instability. Our position in the Philippines does not give the Occident overweening strength in the Pacific. It in no sense jeopardizes either the peace or the peaceful trading rights of any power. We are here with the loftiest ideals, not only toward the Filipinos, but toward all our Asiatic neighbors. We want to live on terms of amity and equality with them all. We stand for the Open Door. We stand for a solution of every industrial and commercial, as well as every political, question on a basis of reason and justice and not of force. We have earned, we have paid for, our right to carry our experiment in the Philippines to full fruition, and meanwhile the possession of this archipelago re-enforces our diplomacy touching all international matters in the Orient, among them the principles of the Washington treaties and the Open Door.

“We cannot think of this Philippine question,” said Gen. Wood, with intensified earnestness, “without thinking of civilization as a whole. And civilization, to us, is Christian civilization. We are a stone, if not the keystone, of the arch of Christian civilization in the Pacific. Filipinos, as to all but a tenth of the population, are Christians. Christianity’s humanizing influence shows in their faces and is recorded in their steady moral advance. Paganism and non-Christianity can be broken down only by the impact of spiritual and cultural influences and these will be projected from the base of a highly-developed Christian Philippines as they cannot be projected from the distance bases of America and Europe.

Advancing Christian Civilization.

“America in the Philippines, in other words, insures the effective deployment of Christianity for the regeneration of the world. These are solemn obligations and great opportunities. We can be false to them only at the cost of treason to that faith which we believe to be essential to the highest human development. Let us go out of the Philippines only when we can leave the torch of that faith in strong hands. If we and those who believe as we believe can Christianize the world, in the full psychic and ethical sense of that phrase, we shall rid it of injustice, of human degradation, of social cleavage and conflict, and of international slaughter. I attach immense importance to developing the Philippines as Christianity’s great peaceful outpost in the Pacific.”

“You have every respect for the sentiment of nationality?”

Defects of a Childlike People.

“I have every respect for the sentiment of nationality. But the possession of sovereign national status can be a blessing to a people only when it means national security, when it means sagacity and restraint in foreign affairs, when it means political and economic competence, when it means established law and order, when it means sanitation, education, social justice, personal and religious liberty. National development of this order can rest upon nothing but the development of the individual citizen. Every society stands or falls according to the presence or absence of ability, perseverance, and self-command in its individual members. No society can be made or preserved by a group of politicians, nor by a group of groups of politicians, however notable their intellectual dexterity.

“Our task in the Philippines is to bring up the general level of education and efficiency to a point where the individual citizens of competence are sufficiently numerous to support a stable structure of government, of social relations and of industrial and commercial prosperity. There is no such general level of education and efficiency now. Filipinos, despite their human charm and their many encouraging moral and mental endowments, are generally unoriginal, non-initiatory, non-constructive, and dilettante. They are too childlike, too feeble, for the heavy burdens of statehood.”

“What will you say of the claim that Filipino progress to the highest extent is impossible without liberty?”

Liberty Under the American Flag.

“I will say that the Filipinos, in their present backward condition, have under our flag the only liberty they can hope to enjoy. Their leaders are ready to give up the substance of liberty in a wild grasp for its shadow; they are ready to lead their people into disaster. Lord Northcliffe was right when he told the Filipinos they had more liberty than any other people in the world—shielded from external and internal molestation, lowly taxed, surrounded by the safeguards and ministrations of science, blessed with churches and schools and communications, left entirely free to use their hands or brains as best they can, launched on an even keel on the main stream of modern progress.

“They talk about liberty. Why, America is the mother of liberty as the term is understood in the world today. It is precisely becasuse we love liberty that we are disinclined to leave these islands prematurely and permit them to relapse into slavery. We came into the Philippines not to take away, but to give, liberty. We cannot accomplish our task by scuttling. Filipinos can have liberty only if they accept it from the Americans in the form of that comprehensive culture and discipline, those moral, intellectual, and civic virtues, which alone make liberty possible. I note a Filipino leader’s remark that while his people are grateful to America for what she has done here they cannot pay their debt of gratitude in the currency of independence. We are not asking for gratitude. We are not working for gratitude. Our aims are not so low as that. Our aims are to found a strong, free, Christian nation in the West Pacific for the sake of that nation, ourselves, and our fellow men in general.”

“If the Philippines were near our shores, would your attitude be different?”

Friends of American Rule Muzzled.

“In that case, I should say, ‘Let them try it.’ We could take the risk then. But they are too far away. Once we leave these islands, we are gone for good. We shall not come back. There are no more Perry or Dewey opportunities contiguous to the eastern coastline of Asia.”

“Is it true that free speech is suppressed in the Philippines by fear of the leaders of the independence movement?”

“To a very considerable extent that undoubtedly is true. Nonpolitical Filipinos of education and understanding must be courageous, indeed, if they voice the opinion they actually hold, namely, that it is better for the country as a whole that America should remain as she is for an indefinite time. Surely any thinking person can realize that this naturally would be so. Persons against immediate independence are denounced as traitors—not openly, perhaps, but none the less effectually, for most of the intelligence circulating in the Philippines circulates by word of mouth. Ignorance is widespread among the masses. They are for independence, when energetically stimulated on the subject by the leaders, for they have not the slightest conception of its practical significane. Can you believe it would be healthy for a Filipino champion of deferred independence to fall among ignorant compatriots to whom he had been described as a traitor?

“Get firmly in mind the fact that there are three classes in this drama of Philippine agitation respecting independence. There is the small political class hungry for the loaves and fishes, the enlightened class (larger than the first, but not large enough for prevalence) interested only in the welfare of the people, and the uninstructed bulk of the population. Patriotic and useful public opinion belongs in the main to the second of these classes. It is this public opinion which is suppressed by fear of the leaders—fear of them as instigators of the ignorant majority against any one who counsels prudence and delay in the matter of independence. Relief for this unfortunate situation can be had, of course, only in widening the circle of unselfish public opinion—only in educating the majority. When observers inquire why it is, if the Filipinos do not want immediate independence, that they elect the champions of immediate independence, the reply is that the ignorant portion of the electorate is misled by self-seeking politicians.”

Ignorance Swayed by Politics.

“And you do not think the Filipinos should have what is bad for them, even if the majority wants it?”

“I do not. They are not entitled to have what is bad for them, even though they want it, for what is bad for them is bad for a lot of other people who do not want it. It is intolerable that an uneducated electorate, harangued by political aspirants to power and emolument, should frustrate America’s long, laborious, and expensive struggle to build a firmly-based Christian state in the Philippines and also should jar the delicate interracial and international balance in the Pacific inimically to the cause of world peace.”

“Would the masses be satisfied if they were left alone by the leaders?”

Filipinos Happy and Satisfied.

“Perfectly. There is not a more satisfied or happier people in the world. I go among them continually and everywhere am received with the greatest courtesy and hospitality. I have just returned from a voyage of 3,000 miles among the scattered islands. I visited fifty centers of life and motored extensively in the rural regions. I carried no arms. Not a weapon of any kind was needed in my party. Cordial popular welcomes greeted me at every turn. Illiterate though vast numbers of these people are, they know enough to know they never before were so well off in every moral and material way as they are now.”

“What is the percentage of literacy in the islands?”

“About 37 per cent., would be a liberal estimate.”

“Manuel Roxas, speaker of the Philippine House, stated before a congressional committee in Washington that it was over 60 per cent.”

“Yes, he made that misstatement and others. His statistics were wrong. He compared dialectic differences in the Philippines to the slight differences of this kind in the United States. That is ridiculous. There are here eight-seven distinct dialects, many of them as unlike as are the modern Latin languages and some of them differing as radically as do English and German. English is the only hope of a national medium of communication in the Philippines.

“Let me briefly illustrate further how unreliable were the statements of Roxas in Washington. He asserted that during the Administration of Gov.-Gen Harrison, when that officer, according to Roxas, abdicated his military duties under the law and left the Constabulary in the Moro region to unrestricted Filipino command—a period of seven years—there was not a single killing in that region. As a fact, during that period, the records show 124 conflicts between the Constabulary and the Moros, 499 Moros dead, 22 Constabulary soldiers dead, 1 officer dead and many wounded on both sides.

Samples of Filipino Rule.

“Nor is this the whole story of that ‘peaceful’ reign. In the same region Bogobos killed 50 Japanese over land troubles. It was during the time in question that occurred the most serious breach of public order since the foundation of the Civil Government. That breach consisted in a fight between the Constabulary and the police of Manila. As a result of that clash a number of both combatants and innocent citizens were killed and many of the Constabulary were sentenced to death or to life imprisonment.

“Furthermore, the assertions of Roxas in commendation of the health service were untrustworthy. During the time under review cholera in the Philippines destroyed 17,000 and smallpox 73,000 lives. We are now free from all sorts of epidemics. In their statistics and in their affirmations Filipino politicians want checking up.”

“What would be your concluding word of counsel to Filipino politicians and to the Filipino intelligentsia in general?”

Obstacles to Filipino Progress.

“I should counsel them at once and without reservation to drop the idea of immediate independence and dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to co-operation with the Americans in creating a Filipino citizenship capable of orderly, just, progressive, prosperous, and self-defensive democratic rule. For such co-operation the road lies wide, smooth, and open. Petty Filipino politics should be cut out as a cancerous growth. Deliberate annoyance of the representatives of the sovereign power should cease. Abortive extralegalism—abortive, but pernicious—should be abandoned. There should be no pettifogging opposition to the clear authority of the Governor-General, whoever he may be, under the organic law. If the Philippine Legislature and the Governor-General disagree, and if their disagreement reach a deadlock, then the President of the United States should decide.

“My advice to the educated Filipinos would be frankly to accept all these conditions and to change their appeal to the people from a call to illusory independence to a call to that moral and mental advance which is the sine qua non of real independence.”

Leonard Wood imprimatur.jpg
  1. Sergio Osmeña
  2. Future of the Philippines