July 23, 1938
WHEN President Manuel Quezon left recently for a vacation in Japan, he left in the dead of night, aboard a Japanese freighter, without fuss or fanfare.
But when he returned this week, board the Empress of Japan, tugboats whistled and puffed around the graceful white luxury liner, the flags were out at dawn, the city’s bay boulevards are bright with sunshine and posters, jammed with cheering thousands. The President might have been returning from the United States, with a new economic pact or another bankful of coconut millions, instead of from a quiet uneventful Japanese holiday.
It was true, however, that the quiet holiday had aroused a Japanese-teapot-storm of comment. The President had been reported seeking unofficial assurances from Japan that the independent republic of the Philippines would be left alone. In Japan, Visitor Quezon had called the report “ridiculous bunkum.” Two days after his arrival in Manila he was to expand that impulsive phrase into an involved 15-minute explanation.
But on the Luneta, a chain of sampaguitas around his neck, he had nothing new to offer. Instead, talking in Tagalog, he took up where he had left off on his departure, sailed with both fists into the Catholic Church.
“If they want showdown, they can have it,” he shouted, evidently still sore at the pastoral letter which had criticized his veto of the religious instruction bill, shortly before he left. He challenged the Church to a fight in the coming elections for the Assembly. He said the church could present its own candidates against those of the administration, to put the whole question up to the people.
Since most of the Church’s candidates would necessarily be the Assemblymen who voted for the bill in the Assembly, and since all of these Assemblymen are administration men too, the challenge was scarcely fair, and the proposed battle, scarcely possible.
Such a battle, moreover, and such a challenge would bring little good to good a country which needed every ounce of unity it had, in the face of freedom. The President himself had recognized this danger in previous declarations. He repeated it on the Luneta: “We should not sacrifice our national life, our national harmony and unity on matters of religion, which we should not even discuss because it is unnecessary to do so. We have freedom of worship and of conscience.”
The vigorous impromptu challenge was later toned down in the official text of the speech, released in English to the press. The President proposed that the National Assembly reconsider the bill. If it was not repassed despite his veto, he would reveto it. If it was not repassed, “the country may consider the matter settled, unless the people in the coming election should decide to elect a majority of members of the National Assembly who would commit themselves in their electoral campaign to enact a measure on religious instruction.”
Confident Mr. Quezon entertained no fears in that respect. The crowd that had jammed the Luneta to hear him was primarily a labor crowd, grateful for favors past and present. But he adroitly interpreted their presence: “It can have only one meaning and that is, that you have come here to assure me that both my veto… and my stand on the question of the separation of Church and State, have met and continue to meet with your entire approval…. You make me very happy.”
The President also tossed aside hurt Catholic arguments that even Catholic bishops, as citizens of the Philippines, had a right to criticize the President’s actions. “I shall not deny any bishop, priest, or minister, of any church, his right as a citizen to express his opinion on any public question, but I do emphatically deny the right of the constituted authorities of any religious organization, or of any Church or Faith, not in their capacity as citizens but as authorities of that religious organization… and speaking therefor, to try to influence the government or any of its branches.”
It was clear warning that there would be no mutual understanding between Church and State in the Philippines.
Two days later the President was almost as clear on another mutual understanding, this time between the Philippines and Japan. The U.S. press had commented widely on the Quezon trip to Japan, had insinuated that Quezon was courting Japan and Japan courting Quezon. Correspondent Wilfrid Fleisher had telephoned the New York Herald Tribune that the President had been invited to the Empire by Japanese friends, that his trip had been arranged by these friends, that the Japanese government was glad of the chance to show the President that Japan had no designs on the Philippines.
No fear of Japan
Radiocasting from his study in Malacañang, over KZRC to the Philippines, and over an NBC coast-to-coast hookup to the United States, the President burned with sarcasm: “One of the American press correspondents, gifted with a highly fantastic imagination, sent information to his newspaper in New York to the effect that I had made that trip for the purpose of starting negotiations with the Japanese government, looking toward the neutralization of the Philippines. The absurdity of the news should have been enough to discredit it.”
The U.S., the President said, still retained control of the commonwealth’s foreign relations. “In the second place, it is a matter of common knowledge that on several occasions spokesmen from the foreign office of the Imperial government of Japan have left it be known…that Japan was ready and willing if invited, to be one of the signatories to such a treaty of neutralization…. Why then should I go to Japan to learn of something about which I had no right to inquire, and which no longer a secret to any one?”
But the President proceeded to do much to credit, if not the report on neutralization negotiations, at least its background of Philippine-Japanese mutual confidence and understanding. “I may state, said the President, “that I am not one of those who entertain any misgivings as to the attitude of Japan toward the Philippines once we shall have become independent. Our preparation for national defense is not due to our fear that any nation has untoward designs against our independence and territorial integrity…. We are not so extraordinarily rich natural resources as to make it worthwhile for any nation to conquer our territory at an enormous cost, and our trade can always be had through mutual concessions. There is, therefore, nothing to justify the belief that a wanton aggression against us may be contemplated by any foreign power.”
Gone seemed the expressed fear of most Filipino leaders that Japan will conquer the islands, or that, if it does conquer the islands much harm will come of it. Gone also the traditional uncompromising attitude toward Japan. Instead, the President hinted, the Philippines must cultivate a more tolerant, a more realistic, policy.
“We are in the world and must live with the world. We must conceive and devise, adopt and execute our national policies, with a clear vision and full consciousness of the realities of the present state of international relationships. We must above all be fair and just, tolerant and neutral, so as not to give an excuse on the part of any foreign power to interfere in our affairs or to charge us with jeopardizing the rights of other nations.”
The President then said, half with a sigh of relief: “When we are independent, our fate will be entirely in our hands.”
That fate, he hinted, was in the Far East, and in “peace and mutual understanding…permanently established among the nations of the Far East.” The face of the Philippines seems turned to Japan.