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Friday, August 15, 2008

interrogating philippine independence: the failure of the tydings-mcduffie law

Colonial historiography has it that the Philippines was annexed to the United States as its territory in the wake of the turn-of-the-20th-century national revolution against the archipelago’s first colonizer Spain. It took a matter of time when the first American colony became an insular area possessing a non-commonwealth status until, by 1935, the Philippines was assigned a ten-year commonwealth stature before the US would allow full political independence. The decade-long transitional government was legislated as the Philippine Independence Act, alternatively called Tydings-McDuffie Act. While the autonomizing law envisioned the unification of the Philippine Islands into the more national and sovereign Philippines, the Tydings-McDuffie Law was practically not the road to true independence as shown in the Commonwealth Era.
Before the Tydings-McDuffie Act was born, the US Congress first ratified in 1932 the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Bill which grants independence to Filipinos. However, there was a price to pay militarily in the form of the establishment of American Military and naval bases as well as economically in the form of the heaping of tariffs and quotas on exported products. Then President Herbert Hoover vetoed the Bill but the following year, the US Congress overrode the veto and ratified the act. Nonetheless, the bill met a sudden death under the opposition of then Philippine Senate President Manuel Quezon and his legislative colleagues. All the same, the bogus independence had itself coming with the resurrection of the rejected bill under the new name Tydings-McDuffie Act, filed by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings and Alabama Representative John McDuffie. The approved new act echoed its predecessor: the US gives the Philippine autonomy a go-signal until the tenth year when the archipelago achieves full American independence but with the provision that the US would maintain naval bases until 1948 and military forces as manifested at present by the US-Filipino Balikatan exercises. The act was passed by the US Congress with the lobbying of the Quezon-led Philippine Independence mission to Washington, DC. It was meant to prepare the country for independence.
However, due to dubious provisions of the enterprising mother colonizer, the Philippine independence was suspect. It is interesting to examine the basic definition of the term and compare and contrast this term to the supposed independent condition of the country. According to various dictionary definitions, independence means “freedom from dependence,” “exemption from reliance on or control by others,” “self-subsistence or maintenance” or “the direction of one’s own affairs without interference.” Politically, the true meaning of independence is “the self-government of a nation, country, or state by its residents and population, or some portion thereof, generally exercising sovereignty.” It means self-governance, an abstract notion which alludes to many levels of organization such as the microcosmic personal conduct or family units or the macrocosmic activities like professions, industry groups, religions and political units including autonomous areas and aboriginal groups or others enjoying sovereign rights inside nation-states. It fits inside the bigger milieu of governance and principles like the permission of the governed as well as involves corporate governance and non-profit organizations.
Self-rule applies to a people or group with the ability to practice the attendant operations of power without interference from a higher authority which the group cannot even circumvent. It is related to the idea wherein a colonial rule, absolute monarchy or totalitarian government ends and wherein marginalized religious, ethnic or geographical groups demand for autonomy. A republican government and democracy like the Philippines, thus, has to have self-rule for it to obtain the right to claim independence.
In general, self-governance of nation-states relates to national sovereignty, a concept that is crucial in international law. Its features include but is not limited to the following: (1) an ethical rule that warrants the desirable behavior within the unit or group, (2) a set of criteria wherein an external legal or political authority may be involved (unless the very group resists that authority), (3) an instrument of guaranteeing that the external authority does not intervene only until these criteria are met like a rule of silence concerning the outbound communication of insiders, (4) a process for recording and resolving grievances, (5) the capability to apply discipline to members, (5) an instrument in choosing leaders, and (6) an instrument in regulating parties or renegade groups out to rival the existing organization.
Also, independence consists in exercising sovereignty, which is the exclusive right to wrest control over a region of governance, people or oneself. A sovereign acts as the highest legislative authority. In Jean –Jacques Rosseau’s Social Contract, the Enlightenment philosopher asserted that “the growth of the State giving the trustees of public authority more and means to abuse their power, the more the Government has to have force to contain the people, the more force the Sovereign should have in turn in order to contain the Government,” with the argument that the sovereign is a collective entity coming from the overall will of the people, not from just any man who can never consider himself as the law. According to constitutional and international law, the idea also refers to a government gaining complete manipulation of its very affairs inside its territorial or geographical boundary by way of diplomacy instead of supervision or mandate. Hence, sovereignty is self governance whereby independence is achieved.
For several countries, independence provides the date when sovereignty was attained from which empire, trusteeship or nation. Meanwhile, other countries have independence dates that actually refer to some degree of nationhood like founding date, unification date, date of federation, confederation or establishment, basic change in government structure, or state succession. Independence is also contrasted against subjugation or the subjecting of a region into a territory under the political and military control of an external government, although subjugation is used weakly to set it apart from hegemony or the indirect manipulation of one nation by a more powerful other. Furthermore, independence is the initial state of a rising nation to close a political gap, although it is frequently the liberation from some dominant power or, defined negatively, the status of not being manipulated by a stronger country via colonialism, expansionism or imperialism. Decolonization, separation or dissolution is not applicable to autonomy, a variety of independence granted by a supervising authority, which still wields final authority over the autonomous territory.
Given these theories and principles surrounding political independence and related concepts, the thesis may now be scrutinized to prove if indeed, the Philippine Independence Act fell short of applying the motivation through which it emerged.
The ten-year Commonwealth period of the Philippines turned intermittent owing to the three-year Japanese Occupation during World War II. The first part commenced from November, 15,1935 or the day of inauguration of the Commonwealth Government up to January 3, 1942 or the day the Japanese took over the Open City of Manila. The second half began on February 27, 1945 or the day General Douglas MacArthur transferred the newly-liberated civil government to President Sergio Osmeña and ended on July 4, 1945 or the day the American Government granted full sovereignty and independence to the Philippines.
The newborn government pursued a high-wire nation-building act to follow political independence with economic independence. Apart from national defense, completion of democratic institutions, educational reforms, transport improvement and colonization of Mindanao region, the Philippines embarked on gaining larger control of the economy, the promotion of local capital and industrialization.
The Commonwealth abided by its own constitution which lasted until 1973. However, the self-governing feature of this constitution was marred by foreign policies and military affairs courtesy of the US, and by some laws on immigration, currency system and foreign trade that had to gain approval first of the American President. In effect, while the constitution is the highest-governing law of the land, the former motherland that is the US seems to be above this supreme law. In essence, the provision on independence of the Tydings-McDuffie Act has been transgressed by the legislative and military intervention of the dominant US. The contemporary repercussions of this American interference point to the lasting legacy of the provisionally ignored Tydings-McDuffie Act.
While the new government also has a very strong executive, a bicameral National Assembly and a Supreme Court in representation of the three branches of a presidential government wholly composed of Filipino citizens, most of them have been American-trained or have continued to maintain colonial ties with the US. Also, worries in terms of military and diplomatic affairs in Southeast Asia caused the US to commit itself continuously to the Philippines, a fact that is sustained to this very day through Manila’s close ties with Washington and the presence of American soldiers in the country long after the US Bases went close. As such, there is a lingering American presence in the government, which means the country remains dependent to the US in a certain way.
The vulnerability of the Philippine economy as an aftermath of the Great Depression, the existence of agrarian unrest, the imbalanced export-import policy between the US and the Philippines and the outstripping of the Philippine peso by the American dollar caused the country to be dependent to the US up until now with the onslaught of American products from Hollywood movies to household commodities as well as the presence of transnational corporations out to employ cheap Filipino labor. For instance, the American agricultural sector was threatened that the low-tariff Philippine products would pose a competition against American sugar beet, tobacco and dairy products so eventually, taxes were stiffened upon Philippine exports’ entry into the US as well as limitations were imposed. Meanwhile, the opposite case happened with the American imports’ entry into the Philippines. Same is true with restricted Filipino migrant workers’ entry into the US vis-à-vis the unrestricted American entry into the country. The lasting American economic imperialism is a proof that the idea of independence as stipulated in the Tydings-McDuffie Act is not being exercised by the very country that permitted its legislative passage.
The US’ economic imperialism also intersected with the cultural variety with the domination of Hollywood cinema, American fashion and Filipinos’ enculturation of American English language. As business transactions were done in English, Hollywood movies were not translated and American clothes became in vogue, the passage of Filipino as national language and the promotion of native dresses were set aside, causing a negative impact in the promised American independence. Until today, these American popular culture trends bedevil the Philippine society, failing the aspiration of the Tydings-McDuffie Act.
While it is easy to see that the Philippine Independence Act was well-intentioned in liberating the country from American colonial dependence, the Act was implemented to pursue the neocolonial ends of the American Empire. The political independence appeared to be just a hollow ceremony, as military, economic and cultural dependence still trapped the post-Commonwealth Philippines within the colonial web. This was and still is not true independence because these forms of dependence are sustained up to the contemporary times, especially political dependence which renders all Philippine governments after American Regime as puppet-like governments serving the whims of Washington administration. Only when a sincere Filipinization in the country’s social superstructure occurs will the terribly Americanized Philippines be capable of fulfilling the motives of the Tydings-McDuffie Law.

Dolan, Ronald E., ed. (1991), "Economic Relations with the United States", Philippines: A Country Study, Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, . Retrieved on 2007-12-28
Lacsamana, Leodivico Cruz (1990), Philippine History and Government, Phoenix publishing House, ISBN 9710618946, . Retrieved on 2007-12-28
Ronald E. Dolan, ed. Philippines: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991.
Seekins, Donald M. (1991), "The Commonwealth", in Dolan, Ronald E., Philippines: A Country Study, Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, . Retrieved on 2007-12-28
__________. (1991), "World War II", in Dolan, Ronald E., Philippines: A Country Study, Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, . Retrieved on 2007-12-28


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