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Joaquin Elizalde: Free Press Man of the Year for 1940

January 4, 1941
Joaquin Elizalde: Man of the year

By James G. Wingo
Free Press Correspondent in Washington

In 1938 the opportunity to have a representative in Washington able to handle the increasingly important U.S.-Philippine economic and trade problems presented itself to President Quezon. Taking advantage of it, the Philippine chief executive, despite bitter opposition from varied quarters, picked for resident commissioner polo-playing, socially attractive Joaquin “Mike” Elizalde, one of the Islands’ topnotch business executives.

U.S. and Philippine businessmen hailed the appointment as a step toward better U.S.-Philippine relations because of his vast economic experience in private business and in the government.

From the day he nervously took the oath of office in the presence of the U.S. Secretary of War, Mike Elizalde, as a practical businessman, has consistently shown that he knows what makes Philippine business tick. He has effectively advocated continued preferential trade relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines and has persistently urged. American recognition of the proposition that the preferential trade between the two countries has been enormously profitable to both countries.

Mike Elizalde began a new era of U.S.-Philippine goodwill in Washington. He has cultivated and impressively won the friendship and confidence not only of Federal officials but also Washington correspondents (who broadcast the news from the world’s No. 1 news center), the American people (upon whose attitude will depend the extent of help the U.S. will give to his country’s aspirations for an independent existence), and U.S. Filipinos (whose interests he has championed more effectively than any of his predecessors because he sees in them not the Philippines’ lost generation but potential assets of the future independent republic).

After his return to Washington early in 1940 to take his post at Capitol Hill during a most critical time in world history, Elizalde, highly exhilarated by the enthusiastic approval of his efforts by his President and people, resumed his duties with greater fervor than ever. Already a popular figure in Congress, he got things done for the Philippines and succeeded in toning down the ever-presented opposition to Philippine interests.

An outstanding example of the Elizalde success in Congress was the utter lack of bitterness toward the Philippines during the long and heated discussion of the extension of the 1937 Sugar Act. Unlike in many previous congressional debates on sugar, in 1940 no hard words were flung at the Philippines or Philippine interests. Contrary to fears or hopes in varied quarters, Elizalde’s country suffered no injury whatsoever. The Philippines quota was not touched, although lobbyists of other sugar areas had persistently clamored for its reduction.

Administrative work

Of course, such a happy development did not happen just fortuitously. It was the payoff of Mike Elizalde’s quiet and persistent efforts toward better understanding by Congress of U.S.-Philippine problems and relations. “We were lucky,” he modestly observed at the time, but if the first congressional debate on a Philippine matter, which did not draw blood was mere luck, the Elizalde technique brought it about.

In 1940 Elizalde completed the streamlining and reorganization of the resident commissioner’s office. He coordinated all the scattered Philippine official activities in the U.S. and placed them under one roof and one responsible head, promoting speed and efficiency in the transaction of official business, especially in relations with the Federal government. Today the resident commissioner’s office compares favorably with foreign embassies and legations in Washington with budgets many times that of the Elizalde establishment’s $150,000.

The reorganization of the resident commissioner’s office was duck soup to such a longtime big business executive as Mike Elizalde, to be sure, but it is an indication of how seriously be applied himself to his official duties. Today a pleased visiting missioner, like Jose Yulo, can say of the resident commissioner’s office on Massachusetts Avenue, “I just sit down here and find out everything I want to know.” When independence comes, the resident commissioner’s office can be transformed into a smoothly-functioning embassy or legation without a hitch.

In 1940 happy results of Elizalde’s efforts to unite U.S. Filipinos and improve their status began to crop up. The nationals division of his office (under Francisco Varona’s able direction) has succeeded in winning their confidence and has made them feel that there is an office looking out for their welfare. Pinoy farm workers in California received special attention, and Elizalde’s frequent advice and interventions resulted in paving the way for a better bargaining position for Pinoy workers, higher wages, improved labor conditions and better relations between Pinoys and their employers.

Service for Pinoys

Filipinos in other states were also the object of Elizalde’s paternalistic solicitations. Early in 1940 he went to bat for Pinoy seamen before a House committee. In the spring he voiced before another House committee his approval of Rep. Vito Marcantonio’s bill permitting the naturalization of Filipinos who are permanent U.S. residents. In the fall he was instrumental in getting Sen. William King to fight for the granting of citizenship to Filipinos in the U.S. civil service.

These fights were mostly unsuccessful due mainly to U.S. jealousy over American citizenship, heightened by war hysteria. However, Elizalde’s efforts were not wasted, for they served to spotlight the status of the Filipinos, loyal nationals of the U.S., and manifested his watchfulness over Filipinos’ political rights. His vigilance helped to smother anti-Pinoy measures in Congress.

Readers of Philippine newspapers are familiar with little services rendered by Elizalde toward helpless Pinoys, like one last summer when six Filipino nurses had been summarily discharged from their positions in New York city hospitals during an anti-alien campaign. Elizalde promptly called the attention of his friends, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, to the apparent injustice being done to his countrymen. The Elizalde protest resulted not only in the nurses’ reinstatement but also in the publication of a Federal official’s plea to U.S., state, county, city and township officials to use in their legislation or administrative regulations the phrase, “citizens of the United States or persons owing allegiance to the United States,” which magic words would protest Filipinos by giving them equality with native Americans in many respects.

Before year’s end Elizalde finally saw one of his early plans realized—the publication of an official monthly magazine publicizing the Philippines, Philippine affairs and U.S.-Philippine relations. The first issue of Philippines was attractive, contained timely articles of interest to U.S. readers. Ten thousand copies were sent out to Federal officials, Washington correspondents, chambers of commerce, universities and colleges. Philippines faced a good U.S. field for the propagation of facts about the Islands.

Through his regular air-mail letters and frequent radiotelephone conversations with President Quezon, Commissioner Elizalde has become one of Malacañan’s most important sources of information on U.S. affairs. Elizalde takes his duties as Quezon’s eyes and ears in the U.S. no less seriously than his many other chores.

Getting in the news

In the last two years Elizalde was one of the three or four Filipinos whose names appeared most often in the Philippine press. His movements and accomplishments were well covered by Washington correspondents. The important significant and unusual ones were reported in your historian’s Independence Merry-Go-Round, a running history of U.S.-Philippine relations.

That the job of resident commissioner had developed into possibly the most glamorous Philippine office next to the Commonwealth presidency itself was mainly due to the shrieking success of the present incumbent, who personally had long been a glamorous figure in Manila society, Philippine business and international sports. Today, at 40, he is a glamorous figure in Washington society and officialdom, undoubtedly the hardest places in the world to make a deep impression.

In political experience Elizalde has come a long way since 1938. The rather shy, uncertain young business executive has developed into a confident, politically-wise public servant. He has given up polo and his military haircut (his hair is now wavy with streaks of gray), acquired a taste for pipe-smoking.

On the Philippine scene and in the field of U.S.-Philippine relations Joaquin Miguel Elizalde is your historian’s 1940 choice for Man of the Year.

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  1. […] April 3, 1909. See Committee Thrashing Out Details of Independence, December 24, 1932 and ; how the Philippine economic lobby operated under Joaquin Elizalde in the late 30s; how this framework evolved: and my own article, Institutionalizing state […]

  2. […] April 3, 1909. See Committee Thrashing Out Details of Independence, December 24, 1932 and ; how the Philippine economic lobby operated under Joaquin Elizalde in the late 30s; how this framework evolved: and my own article, Institutionalizing state […]

  3. […] Joaquin Elizalde: Man of the Year (1940) By James G. Wingo […]

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