Home » Articles » Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939

Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939

October 21, 1939

Primer on the plebiscite

Q.—What are the bands playing for?

A.—To get you out to vote in the October 24 plebiscite.

Q.—What are we voting on?

A.—On an amendment to the Constitution, or rather the ordinance appended to the Constitution.

Q.—Do you mean the amendments allowing presidential reelection and establishing a bicameral Congress of the Philippines? I’m opposed to that. I think I’ll vote no.

A.—Those amendments are not up for a vote. They will be submitted at another plebiscite, probably at the time of the provincial and municipal elections next year.

Q.—That means there will be no elections next week?


Q.—Well, then, who’s going to give us cigars, drinks, free transportation, and maybe a little dough? No, I still think I’ll vote no. Maybe I won’t vote at all.

A.—Listen, on your voting yes depends a lot of cigars, millions of cigars. Also copra, coconut oil, pearl buttons, hemp, embroideries.

Q.—How come?

A.—Well, I’ll let President Quezon explain it. In a recent radiocast address to the people of the Philippines, he said: “One of the objectionable features of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting act, which was not corrected by the Tydings-McDuffie law, was that regarding the trade relations between the United States and the Philippines….If the economic provisions of the Tydings-McDuffie law take effect in 1941, as they must unless the law is amended in this respect, our tobacco and coconut oil products, as well as other minor products such as pearl buttons, embroideries, etc., will have to pay export taxes when shipped to the United States, and the payment of such taxes will prevent their sale in the American market at a profit; and since they cannot compete with similar products in other markets of the world, the industries thus affected will be ruined, resulting in the impoverishment of millions of Filipinos who are engaged in them both in the factories and on the farms.”

Q.—That’s bad.

A.—However, the U.S. Congress recently passed a law, commonly called the Philippine Bill, amending the Tydings-McDuffie law, and correcting the ruinous economic provisions in it.

Instead of paying rising tariffs which will eliminate all profits, the Philippine products concerned will be placed under duty-free quotas during the remaining years of the Commonwealth. Thus, instead of losing all profits, the Philippine producers will be allowed to continue making them but on a restricted scale.

Q.—That’s good.

A.—Also, you may recall, if you are a coconut planter, that the proceeds of the coconut oil excise taxes, amounting to several millions of pesos every year, could not, under the old law, be used directly or indirectly for the benefit of the coconut industry.

Q.—Yes, that was bad.

A.—Well, the new law, according to President Quezon, “also effects some modifications of the existing congressional legislation concerning the use of the excise tax on oil, so that the funds collected from the tax may be available for economic readjustments, including the coconut-growing provinces.” That makes it more fair.

Q.—Yes, that’s good.

A.—But you must remember that all of these advantages will be available to the Philippines only until the date of independence in 1946. From that time one, we‘ll be on our own, unless some solution is found. The Joint Preparatory Committee recently suggested that economic relations between the Philippines and the United States be continued until 1960, to give the Republic a breathing spell. But Congress refused to enact that into law.

Q.—That’s bad.

A.—The new law, however, in the words of President Quezon, “provides that at least two years before independence, there shall be an economic conference between representatives of the United States and of the Philippines, to discuss the trade relations which should exist between the two countries after the establishment of the Philippine republic.”

Q.—Say, that’s good.

A.—Now are you going to vote for the amendment to the Constitution?

Q.—Well, I still don’t see why an amendment to the Constitution is necessary. Congress passed an amendment to its own law. Congress still has plenary power of legislation over the Philippines. Why are an amendment to the Constitution and a plebiscite necessary?

A.—According to President Quezon again, “the Congress of the United States has approved a measure that is favorable to our country but has made its effectiveness dependent upon the affirmative vote of our people in this plebiscite.” Besides, the original Tydings-McDuffie law provisions are embodied in the ordinance appended to the Constitution. The Philippine Bill amendments thus also affect the Constitution, because they change the ordinance appended to it. And any change in the Constitution must be approved at a plebiscite.

Q.—Well, I don’t think there will be any sensible Filipino who will vote no in this plebiscite. There’s no danger of the amendment’s disapproval. I guess I’ll stay at home next Tuesday. It isn’t often I get an unexpected holiday.

A.—Wait a minute. “I want to remind you,” said President Quezon, “that it is of the utmost importance that every voter should go to the polls and vote yes. Your vote in this plebiscite is of far greater consequence to the welfare of our people and the future of the Philippine Republic than your vote in any national or local elections. Upon your vote will depend whether the millions of tobacco and coconut farmers and the large number of workers in the tobacco and oil factories will be destitute or not, and whether our country will be in a sound financial and economic condition when independence comes in 1946….

“Don’t you believe that if only a small percentage of our voters should cast their ballots in the plebiscite, the government and people of the United States would have reason to feel that we do not appreciate the concession that has been granted to us?…

“If you should stay away from the plebiscite, it is very likely that the Congress will think we are indifferent to the continuance of our preferential trade relations with America after independence.”

Q.—Well, that convinces me. It won’t take me long anyway to drop in at the precinct and write yes on the ballot.

A.—Right. I’ll see you at the polls next Tuesday.


  1. […] Essentially, the arguments every administration has made since the beginnings of our republic (see Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939)  have continued to win out. There’s a reason for this, and it goes beyond proponents of […]

  2. […] Essentially, the arguments every administration has made since the beginnings of our republic (see Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939) have continued to win out. There’s a reason for this, and it goes beyond proponents of such […]

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