Friday, March 15, 2013

The Philippine Commonwealth, a Transition Government Leading to Philippine Independence

Pres. Manuel L. Quezon
Since it annexed the Philippines in 1898 as an unincorporated territory, the United States observed and acknowledged the fervent aspiration of the Filipinos to have a free and independent nation. To this end, the American congress enacted in 1932 the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings Act setting specific date of Philippine independence. US President Herbert Hoover vetoed the bill. The congress however overrode the president’s veto and the bill became an act. However, during that time a law pertaining to an unincorporated US territory had to first get the approval of the legislative body such as the senate in the case of the Philippines to become enforceable. Philippine Senate President Manuel L. Quezon opposed the act because of its objectionable provisions such as the imposition of tariffs and quota on Philippine exports to the US and the reservation for American military bases in the Philippines.

Another law was crafted in the US to change the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings act. It was called the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934. Little changes to the provisions of the Hares-Hawes-Cuttings act made the Tydings-McDuffie Act acceptable to the Philippine senate.  It was then signed by the US president and became a law, and the prospect for an independent Philippines became a reality.                                      

The Tydings-McDuffie Act gave the Philippines a 10-year transition period before independence. And until then the Philippines was a commonwealth. Executive powers would be handed over by the American governor-general to the new Philippine president. Taking the place of the governor-general was the High Commissioner of the US to the Philippines who was adviser to the Philippine President on matters involving the two countries. In the interim period, the Philippines would have two elected resident commissioners to the US to act as non-voting Philippine representatives to the US congress.  
Pres. Sergio Osmena
A constitutional convention in 1934 was called in Manila. The convention approved a new constitution on February 8, 1935, and was signed by US President Franklin Roosevelt on March 23, 1935. The constitution was ratified by a popular vote on May 14, 1935. The first Philippine Presidential Election was held on September 17, 1935. Manuel L. Quezon was elected as the first president for a one six-year term.  Winning the vice presidency was Sergio Osmeña.  At first the type of legislature under the constitution was unicameral, but it was later amended into a bicameral legislature. Foreign affairs and military matters were the responsibility of the United States and some legislation required the approval of the US president. In his presidency, Quezon’s advisers included General Douglas MacArthur who was a US High Commissioner. The latter had a rank of field marshal of the Philippines.                            

The attack of the Japanese of the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 precipitated the entry of the United States into WW II. Japanese planes bombed Central Luzon in the Philippines on December 8, 1941. With the advance of the Japanese forces to Manila, General MacArthur declared it as an "open city" to spare it from destruction that might result in battles. American and Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese in May 1942.                                                                                              

The progress made by the Japanese forces in the war, made Quezon and some of his top government officials move his seat of government to Corregidor. Later, Quezon with his top government officials joined Macarthur in del Monte, Bukidnon and from there they flew to Australia. Quezon proceeded to the United States where he set up his government-in- exile.  On August 1, 1944, Quezon died of tuberculosis at Saranac Lake, New York. Sergio Osmeña took his place as the commonwealth president in exile.

In the absence of the legitimate Philippine government, the Japanese occupation forces set up a government called the Second Republic of the Philippines with Jose P. Laurel as the appointed President. This government turned out to be unpopular because the Filipinos hated the Japanese occupation forces.

In 1943, the tide of battle changed in favor of the Americans and the allied forces in the Asia-Pacific theater of war. The Japanese forces suffered huge losses in terms of personnel and equipment and they were pushed every which way by the advancing allied forces. General Douglas MacArthur along with President Sergio Osmeña returned to the Philippines and arrived in Leyte on October 20, 1944.                                                                                                                                                      

The dropping of atomic bombs in the twin Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively made Japan surrender unconditionally to the allied forces led by the Americans on August 14,1945. That act formally ended the war in Asia and the Pacific.                                      

With the end of the war, the commonwealth government was restored, and a presidential election was held. The incumbent president Osmeña was the candidate of the Nacionalista Party. His opponent was Manuel Roxas of the Liberal Party. Osmeña refused to campaign believing that his 40 years of dedicated and honorable services to the country were enough to bring him to victory. In contrast, Roxas made a vigorous campaign for the presidency which eventually rewarded him of winning the election in 1946.   
Pres. Manuel Roxas
Despite the interruption of the war, the Philippines would meet its timetable for independence. The historic and memorable day came on July 4, 1946. The commonwealth had ended and a new era of an independent Philippines began. In the grand ceremony, Manuel Roxas declared the independence of the country and retook his oath as its president. The event was attended by top Philippine and American officials including some foreign dignitaries and was witnessed by about 400,000 spectators. The lowering of the American flag and the raising of the Philippine flag was accompanied with the clangs of church bells and the cheers of crowds. The waving of the Philippine flag in the air signified the Filipinos’ realized aspiration for independence and the hope for a better tomorrow.