|Manuel L. Quezon's autographed picture to Edward Price Bell (1925).|
Yesterday, 19th August, was the 133rd anniversary of Manuel Luis Quezon's birthday.
Quezon is often quoted to have emphatically said, "I would prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by Americans, because no matter how bad, a Filipino government might be improved,” during the campaign for Philippine independence, which he and other prominent Filipinos led here and in the United States.
A contextual framework of his firm belief can be read from relevant excerpts of his interview by Edward Price Bell of the Chicago Daily News in 1925. Quezon's views may be as valid today as they were 86 years ago. There may however be great dismay about his assessment of the Filipino leaders and the electorate if applied today. He also had a very positive outlook regarding the Moro problem at that time when issues of autonomy or sub-state were completely unheard of.
Here are those excerpts restructured in a Question [Bell] & Answer [Quezon] format --
Q [Bell]: "What is your estimate of America's contribution to Philippine development?"
A [Quezon]: "It has been a great contribution. America has been remarkable not only for what she has done but also for what she has not done affecting Filipino development. She had it in her power to practice in these islands the creed of the military despot, and she did not do so. She co-operated with us in our efforts to make the Philippines a prosperous country. She promoted education, liberal and political. She fostered applied science. Economic and financial aid accompanied the Americans into the Philippines. All America did and all we did, as we consistently have been led to suppose, were predicated upon the theory that one day the Philippines would be free. We believe the day when they ought to be free has arrived." [highlighting ours.]
Q: "You think the Filipinos are able to maintain order and administer justice in the islands?"
A: "Decidedly so. What Filipino of any class or type could wish to see the American flag come down here, if he were able to believe that our civilization would come down with it that we should have a welter of slaughter, villages on fire, people shelterless and hungry, a stricken country?"
Q: "You do not believe in alien control, however benevolent?"
A: "No. Alien control and native progress to the maximum of native capacity are incompatible. For material and for moral reasons I am pleading for the independence of my country. It is arguable, and I consider it true, that mutual benefit may accrue for a time to a dominating country and the country dominated. There has been this time of mutual benefit as between America and the Philippines. But, in such a conjuncture, a stage is certain to be reached at which the dominating country begins to stand in the way of the interests, material and moral, of the country dominated. [highlighting ours.]
"Let us call America the most generous, as she is the most powerful, nation in the world. She always, none the less, must remain America. America must come first with Americans. American sovereignty must be inviolate. There must be no fiscal arrangements, no fixing of channels of commerce, not concordant with American interests, though such arrangements or direction might promote Philippine interests. We claim the right on behalf of the people of the Philippines to consider their interests first, just as America has the right to consider American interests first. [highlighting ours.] We want to make our own tariff laws and our own commercial treaties and do everything else belonging to national sovereignty exclusively with a view to what is best for the Filipinos.
"That is the material side of the matter. Now the moral side, in my opinion, is still more vital from the standpoint of the welfare of the Filipinos. As it is deadly to an individual to lack liberty, reasonable liberty, the liberty stopping only at the boundary of the liberty of others, so it is deadly for a nation to lack that liberty which stops only at the boundary of the liberty of other nations. [highlighting ours.]
"When we have our unfettered selfrule [sic], I dare say we shall make mistakes, but in that respect we shall not be original or monopolistic. It is by our mistakes that we shall learn. America has aided us to learn much of the art of government, but we can master that art only by self-practice. In politics, as in law or medicine or music or painting, concrete achievement is not in the scholastic sphere, but only in the sphere of scholasticism applied. And, anyway, even in the United States and in England, democracy is still on its trial."
Q: "It is better for the Philippines to be ill-governed by the Filipinos than well-governed by the Americans?"
A; "By the Americans or any other non-Filipinos."
Q: "Have the diverse peoples of the islands, with their varied dialects, a recognizable psychic homogeneity--a national soul?"
A: "Indisputably. This national soul already has crystallized in striking national decisions--for independence, for joining America in the world war, against huge landed estates, against applying United States coastwise shipping laws to the Philippines. Our people are politically keen and peculiarly democratic.
"There is not a barrio (city, town, village or rural district) without its political vigilance, interest and discussion. Ten per cent, over 1,000,000, of our people have the franchise and between 80 and 90 per cent of the registered electors go to the polls on election day. You speak of dialects. We have many. But our major dialects are only three--Tagalog, Bisaya and Ilokano--and whoever commands these can make himself understood in every part of the Philippines. All of our people speak one of these languages, which have an extensive printed literature.
"To regard the Filipino peoples as sentimentally and mentally diversified in proportion to their diversities of ethnography or religion or dialect is to misunderstand them completely. They all are Filipinos. They all have nationalistic emotions and aspirations. They are intelligent and proud and ambitious. Independence they know would mean equality of opportunity for Filipinos. Of a political or social caste depriving them of their liberties or otherwise wronging them they have no fear. Such reports they dismiss as contrary to their experience and knowledge. Have they not seen their humblest neighbors rise to positions of dignity and influence in the country? Do they not know that nearly all their leaders have been and are of the people?
"Take myself, for example. Holding the premier elective position in the Philippines, I am a farmer's son, born on the soil, born poor and without influential friends, reared in one of the remotest villages in these islands, compelled to climb over trackless mountains to come to college in Manila."
Q: "So it will be mettle that will count in a free Philippines?"
A: "It will be mettle, just as it is mettle in the United States and in every other country where men are free."
Q: "You say you are peculiarly democratic."
A: "We are so because we are unincumbered by monarchic or oligarchic traditions or institutional inheritances. We have nothing of that sort to destroy. Our ground upon which to erect a pure republic is clear."
Q: "It is alleged that freedom of speech in the Philippines is suppressed--that the people fear their leaders."
A: "That word 'fear' should be changed to 'respect.' If respect be fear, then the Filipinos fear their leaders, as they have shown on many occasions.
"My advice to any honest Inquirer who wishes to know whether free speech is or is not suppressed in these islands is to go out among the people and sound them on any of the burning questions of the hour. He will get their opinion without any trouble. And, if he be a Filipino politician, and venture to speak or vote against independence, he will discover on election day that while the Filipino people have no reason to fear and do not fear their leaders, their leaders have some reason to fear them. Public opinion in the Philippines is not only unsuppressed, but vocal and militant. We have two parties and they must be careful to learn what the people want. Our electors do not vote by ethnographic group nor by language or dialect nor according to their religion; they vote as their hearts and minds tell them is right and for the good of the country."
Q: "One is told that an independent Filipino government would solve the Moro problem by stamping out the Moros."
A: "We practically governed the Moros during the seven years of the last administration and had no trouble with them, whereas whenever they have been governed by Americans there has been continual trouble with them.
"We naturally understand every element of our population better than can foreigners. We never have been guilty of persecuting the non-Christian peoples of the Philippines. We have been fair and generous to them in respect of education, roads, sanitation and everything else. From this practice there would be no departure under independence. We believe in educating all our people and promoting their prosperity and happiness in order that we may have a great and contented nation. As for tne Filipino leaders, it should be plain to all thinking persons, in my opinion, that they can hope for a future only if their country has a future. They cannot build up fame, joy or even enduring material success upon the ruins of their fatherland."
Q: "Certain advocates of American annexation of the Philippines, among the points they make, state that 'we need them in our business'."
A: "Ahh, that is not an ethical argument. That is the argument of the sugar. That is the argument of the sisal, the copra, the coconut oil, the tobacco, the rattan, the lumber, the pulp, the dye, the rubber. It is not the argument we expect to prove conclusive with the American people. But even this argument has no value because under an independent Philippines you may have our sugar, tobacco, copra, hemp and the rest."
Q: "Opponents of independence describe your argument--the argument for independence--as 'doctrinaire'."
A: "Our argument is no more an argument of apriority than is that against independence. It is true we base our case, to some extent, upon principles, upon philosophy; but we base it to a larger extent upon the general history of humanity and upon our own particular experience and knowledge. Our argument is a posteriori."
Q: "It is argued that America's title to the Philippines is of triple validity, resting upon conquest, purchase and formal cession."
A: "Our reply is, first, that conquest is no moral justification for the seizure of a country and the deprivation of its inhabitants of liberty; and, secondly, that purchase is not valid when the seller has no right to sell, and cession not valid when the power enacting it is ceding what belongs to others."[highlighting ours.]
Q: "It is declared that no Malay people, of all the millions of Malays, ever created a nation."
A: "That is not true. About the thirteenth century there existed a Malay empire. But, not troubling to question the sweeping dictum concerning the political ineptitude of the Malay race, I should not regard this point a; worthy of serious notice. If no Malay people in all the centuries yet has built up a free civilization of its own, I think it high time one were given a chance to try."
Q: "What would happen in the islands if the congress of the United States declared the Philippines permanent American territory?"
A: "Our people would be profoundly disappointed and depressed. They also would be unutterably surprised. I do not think there would be an uprising, but the Philippine question would not be settled. It would live on as an embarrassment to Americans and Filipinos alike. You have promised us freedom. Our people are being educated for freedom. We Filipino leaders have assured the Filipino people that, if they bore themselves patiently and with dignity, if thev strove to lift themselves up, the United States undoubtedly would set them free. They believed us. Their faith is unshaken to-day. To destroy their hopes would be immoral, illogical, inhuman and a blunder that history one day inevitably would put right. ..."
The Bell interview gives us a view of Quezon's mind with regard to Japan. One is amazed that he had no inkling whatsoever that the thousands of Japanese who came to seek jobs here were part of a war strategy. He might have been shocked when the Japanese forces attacked the Philippines surreptitiously and he was forced to go to exile.
But he had very strong views with regard to 'colored races' achieving power, specifically about the 'colonial possessions' in Asia of the United States and the European empires. He was emphatic about numbers in the fight for independence, citing India's and China's large populations.
"What do I mean?," he replied to Bell. "I mean that when the millions of the Indies, of Java and Sumatra, and of China are ripe for freedom they will take their freedom regardless of what the muse of history shall have meted out to the Philippines. If America elects to hold the Philippines she can hold them for all time, so far as we can see, because we Filipinos are numerically weak. But look at India! Four hundred millions of people! Forty millions in the Dutch islands--more than in unconquerable France! And China--her people are countless! When those peoples become nationally self-conscious, when they are unified and organized, no power on earth will be able to dominate them or retain so much as a toehold on their territory against their wills."
- Bell, Edward Price. (1925). Future of the Philippines : Interviews with Manuel Quezon...Sergio Osmena...and... Leonard Wood. Chicago Daily News. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/aay2617.0001.001