on the World Today
WHEN General MacArthur waded ashore on the east coast of Leyte on October 20, 1944, a brownskinned Filipino knelt and kissed his hand. Fifteen million other Filipinos soon went wild with joy. Their fingers raised in the inevitable “ V ,”toothless old men, naked urchins, and comely dark-haired girls watched our jeeps rush by and called after them, “Victory, Joe!” It was a simple, heartwarming welcome they extended to us — a contrast to the grim-faced reception the British met in Burma, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the French in Indo-China.
The reservoir of good will we had built up in the Islands proved a sound investment during the war, but the war was hardly over when many Filipinos were comparing our occupation to that of the Japs, were charging Commissioner McNutt and U.S. businessmen with meddling in the Philippine presidential election, and were denouncing our Bell Trade Act as “an instance of a big power shamelessly trying to browbeat a weak people into economic slavery.”
Where American sympathies lay in the Islands’ first post-war election was no secret. While leftist organizations like the Hukbalahap (People’s AntiJapanese Army), the Peasants Party (PKM), and the CLO (the Philippine (TO) backed incumbent President Osmena, opposition candidate Manuel Roxas reassuringly declared that he and his Liberal Party had “no suspicions against American capital or American businessmen.”Commissioner McNutt warned U.S. officials to adhere to a strictly handsoff policy in the election, but with American and Philippine commercial and personal interests intertwined through almost fifty years of peace and war, our influence naturally made itself felt.
Roxas was most vulnerable on the score of his having served in the Jap puppet regime — Secretary Ickes had warned that the U.S. would send no aid unless the Philippine government was cleansed of collaborators. But Roxas’s collaboration became no real political liability when just before the election Mr. McNutt announced that U.S. aid would be forthcoming regardless of who won the campaign.
Aid was what the Filipinos needed. Before the war the total assessed value of the Philippines was estimated at two and one-half billion dollars. The estimated war damage, at pre-war replacement and repair costs, was about one billion dollars. President Roosevelt had promised the Filipinos full restitution for war damages, but as late as March, 1946, not a dollar of U.S. relief money had entered the Islands. With President Osmeña apparently impotent, Roxas assured voters he could get 500 million dollars from the U.S. When Congress finally voted American aid and President Truman signed the bill — just one week after Roxas’s election — Filipinos generally were convinced that they had picked the man Americans wanted.
The Republic gets started
That the Republic has become a going concern can no longer be doubted. It has certainly made a good start cleaning up rubble and getting business under way, but as yet there are few signs that it is cutting out the unhealthy remains of the Islands’ pre-war semifeudal economic structure. High hopes were held when President Roxas announced plans for a diversified agricultural economy, for land reform, industrialization, and social security, but so far the Filipino peasants and workers have seen only token instances of the program’s materializing.
The present Liberal Party administration understandably shies away from government planning of a “socialistic" sort for fear it will offend not only its backers at home but a free-enterprise-minded U.S. Congress. The situation is not without parallels. Witness the problem of De Gasperi in Italy and that of Sophoulis in Greece.
Agrarian radicals rebel
For two years the sixty-four-dollar question in the Philippines has been how to handle the agrarian radicals in Central Luzon who have set up what amounts to a government within a government. Over one hundred thousand strong, they have defied the federal government, established their own schools, courts, and legislative bodies, collected their own taxes, and fought more than one hundred armed skirmishes with government forces. Until their demands for progressive social legislation were met they refused to surrender their arms. Meanwhile production has been paralyzed and badly needed rice crops have rotted in the fields.
Exasperated beyond endurance and worried by foreign investors who were holding off in droves, President Roxas in March finally outlawed Luis Tarue’s Huks and the PKM (Peasants Party) and ordered an all-out military offensive against them. But neither the new repressive measures nor his declaration that the malcontents were “Communist bandits” helped to quiet things or solve any of the fundamental agrarian problems.
In April Roxas died suddenly of a heart attack. Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, who succeeded him, changed administration policy in one bold stroke. First Quirino entered Huk territory, talked with Taruc, and convinced him of the government ‘s good faith. Then he issued a proclamation granting unconditional amnesty to all Huks and PKM members and announcing that “agrarian reforms shall be instituted by a more equitable distribution of land to the peasantry.” Taruc in turn pledged to the government his personal loyalty and that of his followers, and agreed to a total arms surrender.
Administration die-hards accuse President Quirino of capitulating to Taruc just when “rebel” fortunes were at their lowest ebb, and a few of Taruc’s lieutenants, who are still highly skeptical of the government’s good faith, prefer to remain in hiding. But the ice has been broken, both sides have saved face, and a real chance now exists for a solution to the Islands’ pressing agrarian problem.
Dumping ground for U.S. goods?
To get their 620 million dollars in damages under the Philippine Rehabilitation Act, Filipinos had to agree to take along with it the highly controversial Bell Trade Act. This Act, equitable on the surface, establishes free trade between the U.S. and the Philippines until 1954, after which an annual increase in duty is to be made until, in 1974, full American duties will be paid. Under the provisions of the Act, however, American goods now enter the Islands in unlimited quantities, whereas Filipino exports to the U.S. are rigidly restricted.
Today the Islands are destitute of consumer goods, and since the Act discourages Philippine manufacturers from competing with Americanmade products, there is real danger that in the free-trade years ahead U.S. exporters will use the Philippine market as a dumping ground for their surplus goods. In this event, hopes for a genuine native industrialization—which is the only permanent solution to the Islands’ economic problems — will go down the drain.
The section of the Act which hurts Filipinos most is the parity provision, which the Philippine Lawyers Guild calls “shockingly humiliating.” It states in part that the “natural resources of the Philippines, and the operation of public utilities, shall, if open to any person, be open to citizens of the United States.” Filipinos of course have no such reciprocal rights in the U.S.
The Philippine press calls the Act “one of the biggest frauds in American political history, the pieces of silver that would deliver the Philippine economy into the hands of a few American imperialists.” This is a bit shrill. But it stands to reason that the Act with its quota system makes for an unhealthy type of U.S. export trade, belies our professed anxiety to reduce world trade barriers, weakens our international bargaining position, tends to perpetuate a backward economy in the Islands, and will in the end be bad business for both Filipinos and Americans.
The world situation and the American mood being what they are today, it will take Filipino leadership which is honest, intelligent, and above all tough, to tackle the fundamental problems which bedevil the Republic. Just where that leadership will come from is hard to see.
The one Filipino leader who stands above the present political confusion is General Carlos P. Romulo, Philippine delegate to the United Nations. Romulo fits solidly with all strata of Philippine society, and his fortunate isolation from current domestic conflicts makes him the logical man to fill the void left by Roxas’s death. But Romulo shows no indication that he would be willing to swap his present job in New York for one at home.
Man of the moment: José P. Laurel
The shadow of José P. Laurel has been hanging over the Philippine political scene ever since the Japanese surrender. A Yale graduate and a former Supreme Court justice, he is no newcomer to Philippine voters. Before the war he frankly applauded the Japanese government’s aims and urged Filipinos to join the Co-prosperity Sphere. When the Japs arrived on Luzon, he served as President of the puppet republic. Cleared of collaboration charges by the Roxas government’s general amnesty order, he has declared himself a candidate for President in the 1949 elections.
In recent months the Liberal Party has shown divisive tendencies, and now that strong man Roxas is gone, Laurel expects many of the splinter groups to declare for him. Most landlords would have preferred him to Roxas in 1946, and if President Quirino is unable to pacify agrarian elements in Central Luzon and Mindanao, Laurel counts on their support. The Church has no objection to him, and merchants who now visualize a rebuilt Japan realize that he would make an excellent contact man for them with Japanese industry.
What stand leftist groups like the CLO, PKM, and Huk will finally take is hard to predict. Laurel, who has always waved the “Asia for Asiatics” banner, is as anti-American as ever and denounces the Bell Trade Act in language as colorful as that of Luis Taruc. With no candidate of their own to back, Filipino leftists, if they are convinced they can get nothing out of the present administration, may well make a deal with Laurel.
Along with the Bell Trade Act, Laurel condemns the presence of U.S. military bases in the Islands, and in so doing evokes enthusiastic applause. Filipinos do not relish the possibility of being caught in a giant Soviet - American pincer, and the thought of their cities and rice fields being used again as a battlefield is to them very frightening.
The U.S. on trial
Both the young Philippine Republic and the United States are on trial in the Far East. For nearly fifty years the Philippine Islands flew the American flag, and then on our Independence Day, 1946, while the peoples of East Asia watched and applauded, we made them a free state.
But today these peoples are wondering whether their applause was premature, whether the United States will really be equal to the sacrifice involved in surrendering authority and economic advantage in the Philippines. They are ripe to be persuaded by native extremists, both left and right, that American freedom pays off in privileges for Americans but not in rights for Asiatics. To retain their good will we shall have to convince these peoples, many of whom are now groping for new forms of government, that our brand of democracy means exactly what it says.