Take it from Quezon: Nationalism fuels progress
As we celebrate the 133rd birth anniversary of Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, it is useful for us to recall his nationalism and his economic, political and social policies to guide our present toward the future.
These could shed light on the direction that our government should take if it wants to join the ranks of the emerging economies of Asia, like Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and China, instead of remaining a laggard in the economic race. The common denominator of their economic success is that of nationalism.
Born on Aug. 19, 1878, in Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon province), Quezon fought under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo against American military occupation after the Philippine-American War broke out in 1898.
For the 1907 election of the Philippine National Assembly, Quezon and Sergio Osmeña of Cebu organized the Nacionalista Party (NP) that demanded “immediate, complete and absolute independence” from the United States. In that election, the NP trounced the Progressive Party that had advocated union with America.
In 1933, as head of the Philippine independence mission to Washington, the fiery Quezon convinced the US Congress to pass the Tydings-Mcduffie Law which pledged independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946. That made him the “father” of our independence from the United States.
Earlier, Quezon led the Philippine legislature in rejecting the Hare Hawes Cutting (HHC) Act which had been obtained by Speaker Manuel Roxas and Senate President Pro Tempore Sergio Osmeña from the US Congress.
Under the HHC, Quezon explained that “…when and if independence comes, it will be an independence merely in name because the naval, military, commercial, agricultural, mineral and other reservations which the United States may retain [would place America] in a position to exercise practical suzerainty over the Philippine islands … [and] it would have stultified [our] progress and crippled trade and commerce.”
Quezon’s objection to the American bases was justified some 50 years later when, on Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate terminated the RP-US military bases agreement despite the strong objections of the United States and then President Corazon Aquino. The main bases, Clark and Subic, are now thriving economic zones that are producing commodities for export and providing employment to thousands of Filipinos.
As an assemblyman, Quezon strongly opposed the US Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909 which imposed free trade relations between the United States and the Philippines.
“I fought the measure upon the ground that free trade relations between our countries would result in making the Philippines absolutely dependent upon the markets of the United States,” Quezon wrote. “This, I contended, would create a most serious situation in Philippine economic life.”
He would also have opposed the Parity Amendment, pushed by the Roxas administration in 1946, which gave Americans equal rights with Filipinos in the exploration, exploitation and utilization of our natural resources, as well as in the operation of public utilities.
In his Pulitzer-winning 1989 book “In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines,” US journalist Stanley Karnow wrote: “[the Filipinos under US rule] were not saved from a classical colonial trade bind. American business was given a virtual import monopoly in the Philippines… Though apparently reciprocal, the arrangement actually stunted the growth of Philippine industry and preserved the archipelago as an agricultural society reliant on the American market. It also perpetuated the power of the Filipino upper class, which derived its wealth from the land. The United States forced the same pattern on the Filipinos after independence, thus making a mockery of their sovereignty.”
Quezon contested the move of US Governor General Leonard Wood to privatize the government corporations. To promote Philippine industrialization and agricultural development, Quezon formed through legislation government corporations like Agro-Industrial Bank, National Power Corp., National Development Corp., National Abaca and Fibers Corp. and Rice and Corn Corp., among others. By 1941, on the eve of the war, the Philippines was already next to Japan in economic growth.
Quezon’s nationalist and state-led economic policies were followed by President Carlos P. Garcia in the 1950s, again pushing the Philippines second to Japan in economic development. We fell to the bottom of the ranking of Asian economies when those policies were scrapped.
Quezon was known as the “father of social justice.” His administration passed the Tenancy Act increasing the share of the tenants in their produce, authorized the sale to tenants of friar lands, passed the eight-hour labor law, and created the Court of Industrial Relations which regulated the relations between labor and capital.
Today’s government policies are contrary to what Quezon had implemented.
The present policies conform with the Washington Consensus policies of privatization, free trade, globalization, dependence on foreign aid, loans and investments, non-industrialization and dictation by foreign financial institutions, instead of promoting “complete and absolute” independence as preached by Quezon and the original Nacionalistas.
Quezon had famously proclaimed: “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” He meant that no foreigner can run the Philippines like heaven and that only Filipinos can do so. He remained true to the end to the original Nacionalista ideal of “complete and absolute independence.”
(Editor’s Note: The author, a lawyer, was among the journalists detained under martial law in 1972. He was then editor of the Philippine News Service and contributing editor of Weekly Graphic. He also worked as associate editor and editor of the postmartial law Philippine Graphic, and is now a freelance journalist and spokesperson for Movement for Truth in History.)
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