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Only Garner can tell hearings’ outcome, August 20, 1938

Independence Merry-Go-Round

Only Garner can tell hearings’ outcome

By James G. Wingo

Free Press Correspondent in Washington

August 20, 1938–“WHAT do you think they are going to do now?”  asked Vice-President Sergio Osmeña as soon as Sen. William H. King, acting chairman, announced that the Philippine bill hearings of the Senate committee on territories and insular affairs had ended.

He was not the only one asking that question. The patient Pinoy who sat in a corner for four weeks watching the proceedings open-mouthed also asked the same question. In fact everybody wanted to know that question’s answer.

The only man who can answer that question or any question arising on Capitol Hill is that prairie politician and sagebrush statesman, John Nance Garner, who today is the most potent political figure on the American scene. Filipinos may well remember this stubby, pinkish-whitish, bushy-browed, billikenish man who headed the large congressional delegation to Manila in 1935. Yes, this man knows the answer to the current Philippine question, but he won’t talk. Since he became vice-president of the United States in 1933 he has said practically nothing for publication.

So there’s no use running to Mr. Garner now although he granted me an interview once on the Manila-bound S.S. President Grant, which was promptly radioed to Manila. But the question must be answered somehow, as your correspondent is going to do forthwith, basing his answer upon the remarks of the committee members, their intonation when asking questions or making comments, their day-by-day attitude, their personal and political interests in the problem and many other things.

The interest in the Philippines shown by the committee members reflects that of the whole United States. It is a negative interest. The sentiment against being involved again in another war is so strong that even bold Franklin D. Roosevelt would not dare to buck it.

Many senators are afraid that the Philippines is a liability which may involve the U.S. in a Far Eastern war. As economic protector of the Philippines, what would the U.S. do if Japan grabbed an independent Philippines the way Germany grabbed Czecho-Slovakia? The U.S. would certainly be placed in a position to fight for a foreign country out of the orbit of the Monroe Doctrine, something which the American people are currently violently opposed to doing. If the Philippines were still U.S. territory, the American people would feel differently.

Today Congress would not grant immediate independence unless the Philippines asks for it, but outside the Emilio Aguinaldo crowd no Filipino seems to desire immediate separation from the U.S. For Congress to cut off the Philippines now would be universally regarded as a retreat in the face of the Japanese march of empire.

The American people want to retire from the Philippines as early as possible, but the U.S. government will see to it that the sovereign power retires gracefully. The Philippine Independence Act, whatever one may think of it, gives the U.S. a graceful “out.”

Naturally the average congressman would take the attitude, “Why disturb the whole thing? The Filipinos seem to be getting along all right under the act. Why not let the law run as it is?”

For both the U.S. and the Philippines, there are excellent points in non-action on the Sayre bill. This is not the proper time for the Philippines to ask for more economic concessions or economic changes in the independence act. True enough, the export taxes start next year, but the Sayre bill does not propose to eradicate the export taxes except on a few products, in which case the diminishing quota system will apply.

Shortly before 1946 conditions may change, and the U.S. may be in a mood to treat the Philippines more liberally. There is still this chance, this last thread of hope. But once the Sayre bill or part of it is adopted, that chance is lost forever. Forever is a long time, but it is reasonable to use the word in this case.

Some seasoned observers of the situation believe that rather than let all these long hearings go for naught, congress may adopt the part of the Sayre bill pertaining to the remainder of the commonwealth period. This portion affects only coconut oil, cigars, scrap tobacco and pearl and shell buttons. Resident Commissioner Joaquin M. Elizalde described the proposed changes embodied in the Sayre bill as “of the greatest importance to our economic stability during the second portion of the commonwealth period, 1941 to 1946.”

But almost everybody here is of the opinion that extending U.S. economic protection to an independent Philippines until 1960 is something congress will not do—at this time. Congress reflects the attitude of the American people much more than the U.S. President does. And today the American people are strong for isolationism.

Of course, don’t take all this as pure gospel. Only “Cactus Jack” Garner knows what Congress will do. And he won’t talk!

So your correspondent will continue where he left off two weeks’ ago—continue to give a faithful account of the hearings. As an intelligent reader, draw your own conclusions and make your own predictions. On this question you have as much chance of hitting the mark as any of us here.

After reading his splendid brief, Commissioner Elizalde told the committee not to get the false impression from Severino Concepcion’s testimony that the “Philippine Federation of Labor,” which he represented, was a mighty organization like the C.I.O., despite its imposing name. The commissioner also informed the committee that the President of the Philippines has established

a minimum daily wage of one peso in all industries, including sugar.

“Taken in the light of American wages, this is very low, but it is the highest ever paid in the Islands,” he said. “Furthermore in a great number of our products, we have to complete with other tropical countries which pay very low wages. We cannot raise wages as we would like to.” He also pointed out that Filipino wage-earners usually get free housing and medical treatment.

Following Commissioner Elizalde, Missioner Osmeña personally took the stand for the first time. Dressed nattily in a grey suit, he read a prepared statement, intended to clarify the commonwealth government’s position.

He categorically averred that “the conformity of the Philippine government to this bill represented the permanent views of that government.” He explained the use of figures showing “that during a 50-year period Philippine purchases of American goods registered a higher percentage of increase than American purchases of Philippine goods” as primarily “to indicate the value of this trade, to portray its possibilities, and to serve as documentation…that the economic problem involved in the political separation…is one of tremendous proportions.”

Expressions of gratefulness appeared many times in Commissioner Elizalde’s statement. Mr. Osmeña reinforced them with this:

“The Filipino people have always been pleased to recognize that they have derived great benefits from the free admission of Philippine products into the United States. Previous Philippine missions have frankly and openly admitted this fact. An expression of this sentiment has been reiterated and placed in the record of the proceedings of this committee in the cablegram sent by the President of the Philippines. The sense of gratitude of the Filipino people is strengthened by the knowledge that those responsible for the initiation of the free trade policy between the two countries were animated by altruistic motives….

“And the Filipinos further believe that the gratitude they owe to the American people cannot be measures solely by the economic benefits….America brought to the Philippines the spirit of free institutions, and, in accordance with the spirit, she prepared the Filipino people for self-government. She gave to the Filipinos ungrudging assistance in transplanting to Philippine soil the blessing derived from modern science, technology, and culture,” etc., etc.

McDaniel’s statement

There was no doubt now that President Quezon’s “gratitude” cablegram was compelled by cabled reports of Missioner Razon’s answer to questions made by inquisitorial senators. In his remarks Mr. Osmeña pointed out that he was clarifying statements made during “the discussion concerning my statement of the views of the Philippine government.” It may be remembered Mr. Razon read the Osmeña statement and answered questions for the chief during the illness of the Missioner No. 1.

The chairman of the Cordage Institute, astute J.S. McDaniel, followed Mr. Osmeña on the stand. Said he, “In view of Mr. Elizalde’s remarks this morning, there is nothing left for me to say. I merely want to place my statement in the record.”

Really, with Mr. Elizalde’s acceptance of the Cordage Institute’s amendment to the omnibus bill (an extension of the present Cordage Act to 1946) in an answer to perspicacious Chairman Millard E. Tydings’ inquiry, there was no need to say anything further. In his prepared statement Mr. McDaniel pointed out the existence of the mutuality of interests between the Philippine people and the U.S. hard fiber, cordage and twine industry. He recalled how the Cordage Act came into being—through a compromise between Manuel Quezon (then Philippine senate president) and the Cordage Institute with the approval of certain members of congress. He termed Francis B. Sayre’s calling the Cordage Act “an unfair discrimination against those islands” an “erroneous conclusion.”

“Americans are particularly disturbed over the possibility of Filipinos’ shipping rope yarns into the United States in the form of binder twine, which, under our customs’ policy expressed in our laws, as we understand it, cannot be prevented,” he declared. “Two-thirds of the manufacturing processes of the finished produce—preparing the fiber and spinning the yarn—would be completed by cheap Oriental labor. The practical effects would be the same as if there were no quotas, limitations or tariffs on Philippine hard fiber products coming into this country….

“Certainly there is no ‘imperfection or inequality’ in preventing the Philippines from creating a new industry based on an American market already harassed by prison and foreign competition. If the Philippines were to usurp any part of the binder twine market of the United States, that would force United States manufacturers to find some use for their manufacturing capacities. In turn, this would bring about excessive competition in rope sales, depressing values, which would depress the prices of the Manila fiber (abaca)—so important to Philippine economy.”

Senatorial interest in the hearings reached a new low on the ninth day. Today only Mr. Tydings was present to listen to the most hysterical witness of the entire hearings—and perhaps in any hearings on Capitol Hill in recent years.

Chairman Tydings warned today’s witnesses: “Don’t go over ground already covered, for if you do so, we will not have any bill acted on before the Fourth of July.”

The hysterical witness was notorious Porfirio U. Sevilla, the publisher of the scurrilous Philippine-American Advocate, which has discomforted many famed Filipino politicos, especially President Quezon, Quintin Paredes and Commissioner Elizalde. The resident commissioner was absent today, but Missioner Osmeña and Camilo Osias saw this pompous Pinoy strut his stuff.

Dressed handsomely in a well-tailored grey suit, red-and-grey necktie and black-and-grey shoes, little Porfirio Sevilla strutted to one end of the committee table and promptly started banging it. “I am appearing against this bill for three cardinal reasons,” he shouted. “First, it is legally questionable whether congress can repeal or amend the Philippine Independence Act.”

The second and third “cardinal reasons” were lost in the subsequent hysteria which made it almost impossible to understand the speaker. The remarks he made before Senator Tydings are lost to posterity because the official stenographer could not follow him. He merely made this notation, “Unreportable.”

“Don’t be funny!”

While little Porfirio huffed and puffed, Mr. Tydings went on sucking at his cigaret holder, saying nothing. Even when the witness shrieked, causing consternation in the halls of the huge senate office building, the senator did not change his Mona Lisa countenance. People in other offices kept calling the Indian Affairs committee room, in which the hearings were now being held, to find out what was going on. Some thought a wild Indian had gone on the warpath.

“Quezon is coming down here again to ask for some changes in the Independence Act,” the runty Pinoy screamed. “The congress should not allow him to do so.

“All our industries are under the control of foreign interests,” he thundered next. “Let’s have the independence you have promised us—because we want it.”

Changing his voice to a sarcastic intonation, he stated, “We are coming here to ask changes, Mr. Chairman, because we are afraid of the Japanese. The Japanese are going to get us! Ha! ha! Oh, Mr. Chairman, don’t be funny.”

Mr. Tydings was now reading the Congressional Record, and did not even look up at the speaker.

“I want to emphasize the principal point,” Sevilla vociferated. “Filipinos are expecting independence in 1946. Only 25,000 Filipinos will be affected by this pending bill. How about the others? They don’t know anything about it. They only know that they will be free in 1946.

“You will be blamed, Mr. Chairman, if you will pass this bill. This is no practical joke. You will be blamed if you pass this bill.

“The Filipinos do not know the meaning of this bill. They do not know that they will be tied up until at least 1960. I warn you, Mr. Chairman, there will be a civil war if you pass this bill.

“The Filipinos believe in you, Mr. Chairman. The ratification of the Tydings McDuffie Act by my people was a blessing. And let me remind you that if you extend the Act to 1960 my people will revolt against the sponsors of this bill.”

Report unread

Then busy Porfirio mentioned that only a very few people in the Philippines could read the report of the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs, upon which the Sayre bill was based. He brought up the problem of the Pampanga sugar workers. “They are mistreated,” he shrilled. “They are oppressed. They are getting only 20 centavos a day.”

He told the committee or rather Mr. Tydings that he had just received a cablegram, which read, “Do not testify.” “Mr. Chairman,” roared the witness, “do you think I am the man to be bribed! Don’t be ridiculous.”

If Mr. Tydings had heard that remark, he presumably passed it up as coming from a hysterical person unable to speak coherently, to speak grammatically or to weight the meaning of his words, for the senator continued to read the Congressional Record. When witness Sevilla failed to get the attention of the senator with his screaming and table-pounding, he resorted to imagining voices. “Mr. Chairman, I beg your pardon. I didn’t get that.” Mr. Tydings had said nothing, so the audience guffawed, but the senator remained immovable.

Sevilla mentioned several U.S. national heroes, and then he bellowed, “I am willing to defend my people to my last drop of blood. Don’t be misled by so-called Filipino patriots. By any means, go to it, Mr. Chairman.

“President Roosevelt was misled by the JPCPA. This bill was planned in the Manila Hotel, where the members of the JPCPA had a good time. You can’t get a true picture of the Philippines that way.

“I appeal to you now. Please give our independence in 1946. There will be a revolution if you don’t do it.”

Such a witness as Porfirio Sevilla would undoubtedly not last one minute before a Philippine National Assembly committee if he would be allowed to appear at all. But in the U.S. conception of democracy, this fellow had as much right to say what he wanted as Sergio Osmeña or President Quezon. Mr. Tydings permitted the witness to bellow until he was exhausted. When the witness stopped fulminating, the senator said, “Thank you, Mr. Sevilla. Who’s next?”

Next was J.M. Crawford, manager of the Philippine Packing Corp., a 100 percent American-owned pineapple company in Mindanao, which started investigating the field in 1921, planting pineapples in 1928 and canning in 1930. The company is now canning more than half a million cases annually and practically 100 percent of this is shipped to the U.S., according to Manager Crawford.

On behalf of U.S. interests

“We followed the American flag to the Philippines not as philanthropists to spread American industry or to improve conditions for the Filipinos but to make money for ourselves,” testified Mr. Crawford frankly. “To date we have not recovered our investment. We have however assisted in developing an American industry. We have also definitely assisted the Filipinos, particularly those living in northern Mindanao…. We have found the Filipinos to be good, conscientious, loyal employees, who like the Americans and are grateful to the United States.

“We would like to have Senate Bill 1028 become a law for this would give us more time to recover and make a return on our investment. I have no authority to speak for other citizens of the United States living in the Philippines but I believe the position of my company is typical of other American investors in the Philippines.”

Two other senators, John E. Miller and Bennett Champ Clark, showed up, while Mr. Crawford was speaking, to reinforce the lone Mr. Tydings.

After Mr. Crawford there was nobody else on the docket for the day. The chairman wanted to know whether there were some more who wanted to be heard. Vicente Villamin stood up and said that he would like to speak the next day.

“Why not now?” asked Mr. Tydings, and the best known of all U.S. Filipino economists pulled out his prepared statement, walked to the large table and began giving the defects of the pending measure. Said he:

“The first defect is this: The bill sets forth a plan of a limited, declining preferential trade between the United States and the Philippines from 1946 to 1960. This plan is to be incorporated in an executive agreement. This agreement is made immune from denunciation for seven years. But…it is subject to revocation on six months’ notice…. The effect of this provision is to deprive the Philippine government of the treaty-making power which it should acquire automatically with the assumption of independent sovereignty….

Villamin’s contentions

“The second defect is this: The plan of trade dissolution, euphemistically called a readjustment program, will take the form…of an executive agreement between the President of the United States and the President of the Philippines. The pertinent provision of the bill gives the former only permissive, not mandatory, authority to enter into such agreement…. There is no reasonable or rational certainty that there is going to be any agreement at all when the fateful year of 1946 rolls around….

“Two questions arise: Firstly, would not progressive disintegration of the Philippine-American commerce…be more painless to the Philippines than its abrupt cessation…in 1946? My answer is this: It is preferable…to have five years more of the existing free trade arrangement of no tariff duties and no declining quotas and trust not only to the magnanimity of the United States but also to the eventual recognition of the relative value of Philippine economic potentialities for a new deal for the period after 1946….

“Secondly, what is a reasonable alternative to the bill? My answer is this: Let congress proceed to repeal the export-tax provision of the Tydings-McDuffie Act…. The provision is unnecessary now. According to the report of the Joint Preparatory Committee, the Philippine net bonded debt in 1946 will be but approximately $21,000,000. Today the Philippine government has a cash surplus six times that amount.”

The committee disposed of Mr. Villamin without asking him a single question. The senators seemed to be thinking of anything but the Philippines.

John J. Underwood, representing the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, was the first speaker on the tenth day. When he began reading his statement he had three senators to listen to him—Tydings, Arthur H. Vandenberg and Key Pittman. Also present were Missioner Osmeña and Commissioner Elizalde.

“A committee of the chamber has studied the bill under consideration,” Mr. Underwood droned, “and has reached the very definite conclusion that any premature change in the economic relationship between the United States and the Philippines, without opportunity for adjustment, will result in chaotic and unstabilized conditions to the great detriment of the United States as a whole, and in particular to the Pacific Northwest.

“One-third of the exports of the Northwestern area to Asia are marketed in the Philippines. The citizens of Seattle are now negotiating with the Maritime Commission a proposal to establish a new American line of steamships on this essential trade route. Many thousands of dollars have been spent by Northwest business enterprises in building up trade at Manila and other points in the Far East and this money was expended in anticipation of permanent trade relations with the Islands and on a basis of favor of competing with other countries for this business….

“It is the belief of many Pacific Coast businessmen who have been close to the situation that the American interests who are proponents or who lobbied on behalf of the plan to abrogate the present preferential trade agreement between this country and the Philippines had but one object in mind. It was not philanthropy which influenced their sentiment on behalf of the Philippine people to give them their right to self-government; their purpose was to convert the status of the Philippines into a foreign country…. These interests reason that any barriers against Philippine imports will place similar products from Cuba on a preferential basis in entering the United States.

Pacific Northwest interests

“The proximity of the Atlantic Coast to Cuba naturally gives that section a greater interest in Cuban trade than in the Philippines. These Atlantic Coast interests fail to realize that the Pacific Coast as a part of the United States of America is entitled to share the benefits of this country’s trade with all sections of the world and should not be discriminated against in favor of other parts of this country….

“The State of Washington has considerable interest in any national or international policy agreed upon which will affect the trans-Pacific trade of this section of the United States. The exported products are the very life of the United States Pacific Northwest industries and include lumber, flour, fruits, vegetables, dairy and poultry products, canned salmon, condensed milk, paper, pulp, mill and mining machinery…. The proposed new American steamship service which contemplates operating out of Seattle to the Philippines and trans-Pacific countries is dependent upon the inbound and outbound cargo from and to that country for its regular service. Continuation of preferential trade relations…is essential to those industries, for if a policy between the two countries is established upon a non-preferential basis it will mean absolute elimination of a large percentage of our exports and this trade will revert to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and other countries…. Foreign shipping lines…would be stimulated by this direction of trade at the expense of…American lines….

“For the reasons stated we respectfully urge this committee favorably to report S. 1028 now under consideration.”

Mr. Underwood’s handsome grasp of the Pacific Northwest situation as it would be affected by the Sayre bill evoked a mere “Thank you” from the committee. It was unfortunate for the Sayre bill that Washington’s Homer T. Bone was not present to listen to the arguments propounded by Seattle businessmen. Mr. Bone had not acted friendly at all to the Sayre proposal.

Herman Fakler, vice-president of the National Millers Association, the national trade organization of the U.S. wheat flour milling industry, reinforced the Pacific Northwest’s opposition to “the abrupt elimination of trade relations” between the U.S. and the Philippines, as voiced by Mr. Underwood. “We do not feel that it is economic to liquidate our present trade relations,” he said, “but rather that we should endeavor by some means to preserve our existing trade.

“Our principal competitors in wheat flour in the Philippines are Australia, Canada and Japan. The elimination of preferential treatment for American wheat flour, therefore, would merely mean handing over our very valuable trade…to our competitors….

“The Philippine market…is of great economic value to the wheat growers of the Pacific Coast. It offers an outlet for their surplus wheat…. Therefore, we favor the objective of the bill now before your committee.”

Astute Senator Vandenberg elicited the information from Mr. Fakler that the flour sent to the Philippines is subsidized by the U.S. government at about $1 a barrel. “You would be more interested in the subsidy than in long-range planning for Philippine trade,” the senator crackled. “You wouldn’t need this bill if you had the subsidy.”

“But we don’t know if the subsidy will continue,” replied the witness.

“That’s right, you don’t,” shot back Mr. Vandenberg, who may become the next U.S. President and who, if elected, will surely scrap many of the New Deal projects which are now costing U.S. taxpayers plenty of money.

U.S. citizenship for Pinoys

V.N.P. Zerda, Filipino lawyer in Washington, proposed an amendment to the Sayre bill providing for U.S. citizenship for Pinoys married to U.S. women and who have lived in this country since May 1, 1934. However, he made excursions to many other subjects.

He mentioned a book which purported to say that beet sugar “smells bad.” Promptly the senator from a U.S. beet district, Mr. Vandenberg, growled, “What did you say about beet sugar?” The witness replied that he was quoting a book.

“The book smells worse,” the senator said.

Witness Zerda continued to read his statement: “The most sorrowful of Filipino life in this country comes when he knows that he is not a citizen of the United States and cannot become one….

“I also heard…here last Thursday that England takes good care of the English anywhere in the four corners of the globe. I happen to know that England takes good care of her colonies, as well…. If there is democracy at all it is in England….

“There has been a saying that if you can save a soul, nothing else matters. Gentlemen of this honorable and distinguished committee, your just and equitable appraisal of Filipino rights, privileges and preferences would save you a great race of people who have already proved to you to be worthy of erecting a monument in the name of American Western civilization, in the name of Ferdinand Magellan.”

In the name of Ferdinand the Bull, I wish I could end the account of these hearings this week and get to doing something else. But we still have to take up “Gold King” John Haussermann, who made a stirring plea for kindness to the Filipinos; that “garrulous general,” William C. Rivers, who kept committee members splitting their sides with laughter; grand, old Harry B. Hawes, who took up two hours to say what he admitted could have been boiled down to a few minutes, and two or three others. So then until next week!