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Paladin of Philippine Freedom: A Dissenting Opinion

It is a fact that history is written by winners. Thus it is that victors win because they were in the right and suffered few losses while the losers were totally annihilated. So it has been in Philippine history. Spanish friars, American officials, Japanese soldiers, one President after another have been demonized—in fairness, sometimes deservedly—by their respective successors.

Once in a while a discerning observer speaks up. Judge Guillermo B. Guevara (1886-1987) does so in his autobiography that covers a distinguished career in both public and private sectors during the American and Commonwealth periods, during which Manuel L. Quezon was hailed as “Paladin of Philippine Freedom.”

Before World War II, independence was the dominant political issue. Manuel L. Quezon was Philippine resident commissioner in Washington, D.C. (1909-1916) and successfully lobbied for the passage of the Jones Law (1916) that committed to eventual Philippine independence and created an elective Legislature with and Upper and a Lower House. Elections were held and Quezon was elected senator and became senate president. He worked well with then Governor General Francis Burton Harrison who is glowingly described in our history books as sympathetic to the Philippine cause. 

THE PROTAGONISTS Manuel L. Quezon

In the economic field, the Philippines enjoyed a period of prosperity during World War I (1914-1918) with unprecedented demand for sugar, coconut oil, and hemp. Government financed the expansion of these industries through the Philippine National Bank (PNB). After the war ended, however, demand slumped and PNB loan losses mounted.

Washington sent former Governor General W. Cameron Forbes and Gen. (Ret.) Leonard Wood “to look into the mess created by the combined Harrison-Quezon team. The first target of the mission was the irregularities or rather the cause of the near bankruptcy of the PNB.”  The outcome was the conviction and imprisonment of the PNB president and three senior officers.

Leonard Wood succeeded Harrison as governor general. Wood was often in disagreement with Quezon and vetoed numerous bills passed by the Filipino Congress. He has thus been characterized as an imperialist opponent of Philippine independence. The dispute went as far as the resignation of the entire cabinet. 

Meanwhile, efforts for independence continued. Sergio Osmeña and Manuel A. Roxas were dispatched to Washington (“Os-Rox Mission”) to press for immediate independence and succeeded in securing the passage of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act (1933). Among others, the Act set a 10-year independence timetable subject to Philippine Congressional ratification. 

THE PROTAGONISTS Leonard Wood with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

Quezon declared the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act unacceptable and a battle ensued between the “pros” for ratification of the act (Osmeña and Roxas) and the “antis” (Quezon). Congress disapproved the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. The Antis won. Quezon then sailed for Washington and returned the conquering hero with the Tydings-McDuffie Act. 

Guevara begs to differ. While at Georgetown University, Guevara served with and hero-worshiped Quezon then working for the Jones Law. From his front seat in the following decades, however, Guevara declares,

…Quezon proved all too human in the unhappy sense of the term in his indulgence in the privileges and prerogatives of power. … Thus it was that the impression started to develop that graft, ineptitude, gross mismanagement are inescapable concomitants of the democratic system, that while undesirable, they are part of the price to pay for a way of political life pompously and patriotically associated with autonomy and Filipinization preparatory of independence.

To the holders and dispensers of power elevated by the grace of popular election, the conviction became current that anything goes with the people if they could be distracted by the proper rhetoric of nationalism and the latter-day equivalent of bread and circuses of ancient imperial times.

On the other hand, Guevara continues, Harrison’s successor Leonard Wood, was a straight shooter, prudent in government expenditure and intolerant of corruption. Unlike Harrison who signed into law almost everything that Congress passed, Wood vetoed bills that he felt irregular—and there were many.

THE PROTAGONISTS Francis Burton Harisson

Festering resentment came to a head when an American detective was dismissed by the Manila City mayor on a bribery charge. Wood investigated and discovered that it was really about a Filipino bigwig caught in a gambling raid. The detective was reinstated and “at a signal from Quezon, the entire cabinet dramatically resigned en masse, carrying most of the nation in the conviction that only Philippine independence, and the sooner the better, would resolve the impasse.” 

The disputes were presented to the public as rivalry between those who were for freedom and those who were against. Guevara looks at it differently: “We had during the Wood regime an interlude of business-like administration at the expense, often, of Philippine autonomy.”

Guevara has this to say on the pros vs. antis debate: “What Quezon […] would not and never permit was any prospect that Osmeña and Roxas would get any full credit for an Independence Law, as in the case of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act […] Hence, the concoction of those Quezonian reservations about relatively minor provisions by which he justified his round rejection of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act and the consequent game called the Antis-Pros political war.”

In general, Guevara adds, University of the Philippines students were pros, favoring the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. UP president Rafael Palma authorized discussion of the subject in campus assemblies organized by student leaders including WenceslaoVinsons, Arturo Tolentino, and Carmen Planas. Quezon was furious and threatened to cut the UP budget by one-third. Palma decided to resign. 

FOR GENERATIONS The book cover with the photo of Judge Guillermo Guevarra

Quezon proceeded to Washington and returned with the Tydings-McDuffie Act, “which was virtually the same Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act.” 

Guevera’s verdict: Government was run professionally by Americans during the pre-autonomous period (1901-1913) and rapidly deteriorated under Filipinos with the complacent Harrison. Leonard Wood was for good government, acted within his authority, and accordingly clashed with Quezon who had different ideas. In wanting to claim exclusive credit for Philippine independence, Quezon created the controversy of pros vs. antis, and UP and Palma became collateral damage in the crossfire.

Notes: (a) This article is based on Judge Guillermo B. Guevara’s autobiography, Across Four Generations (Manila: United Publishing Company, Inc., 1973; (b) Judge Guevara’s career is the subject of a previous article. With only seven years of formal education of which one year was for a Master of Laws at Georgetown University, Guevara rose in the civil service and in the law profession as judge, fiscal, professor, law author, and practitioner. He passed the Bar Examination without a single day in law school. After retirement, he shifted gears and became a successful industrialist; (c) Francis Burton Harrison was governor general from 1913 to 1921 and Leonard Wood from 1921 to 1927; and (d) In time, UP student leaders Vinsons, Tolentino, and Planas all achieved renown in the law and public service.

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Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2020/08/04/paladin-of-philippine-freedom-a-dissenting-opinion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=paladin-of-philippine-freedom-a-dissenting-opinion)

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