Quezon’s greatest triumph
by Col. Benvenuto R. Diño, M.C., Retired
August 1, 1962–AT THE headquarters of the Philippine government-in-exile, a suite on the third floor of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Manuel L. Quezon, who since early in the century had been fighting for his country’s complete independence, formulated plans for the final round of what he called the “good fight”—which would achieve for him his life’s greatest triumph. He was a very sick man; for him time was running out. It was the autumn of 1943.
Quezon was in a good position to bargain for his country. This position was clearly shown in a closed-door conference held on October 10, 1943.The meeting was called to discuss the date of Philippine independence.
There was no question as to the nature and the granting of Philippine independence. The date, too—July 4, 1946—had long been approved by an act of the U.S. Congress. But now there was a move among U.S. policy makers to postpone the date because of the war and the Japanese occupation.
Quezon, fighting against an old enemy—tuberculosis—realized that here was another fight looming up. “Why,” he asked, “despite all the efforts we have made in this war, should the independence date be again postponed?” He called the move “sloppy and ridiculous.”
There was no question, however, that Quezon would use all his skill in this fight. He summoned up all the strength left in him, although it might greatly hasten his death. Quezon prepared himself by devouring books, especially Hayden’s “The Philippines—A Study of National Development,” to weigh and measure just exactly what the Americans thought of the Filipinos. As Quezon sat there for interminable hours, and I read these books aloud to him, he would gaze at the ceiling, considering possibilities and counting his assets.
There was no doubt at all that the prestige earned by the Filipino people by their brave stand in Bataan and Corregidor were the two aces in his hands. He knew, too, that the U.S. pledges were two sparkling kings. What about the unopened cards on the table? He weighed all possibilities with care.
Quezon, of course, knew what his opponents would do. He had friends among them, whose idiosyncrasies he knew. Some of them could be relied upon to support him. There was Henry L. Stimson, secretary of war, former secretary of state and governor–general of the Philippines. There was Senator Hawes, co-author of the abortive Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law, who was now a very close confidante of Quezon.
Quezon banked, too, on his Washington experience as former resident commissioner.
Confident and smiling, Quezon awaited Roosevelt’s emissaries on that sunny October morning.
First came well-groomed, well-fed Judge Samuel Rosenman, President Roosevelt’s special adviser. Carrying a brown leather briefcase, the stocky Rosenman had the air of a Wall Street executive coming to deal on behalf of his firm—the United States government. The deal involved 115,707 square miles of real estate called the Philippine Islands.
Following him was hawk-nosed, leather-faced Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes. With him was his reliable aide, Undersecretary Fortas, who was in charge of territories and insular possessions.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Quezon’s old friend, was ushered in. Slim and old, he still carried that stamp of patriarchal authority that he had when he was the fatherly governor–general of the Islands. With him was Milliard E. Tydings, the suave senator from Maryland. Dressed in a cutaway suit, the co-author of the Tydings-McDuffie Law seemed groomed for a very important state occasion.
The conferees took the seats arranged about Quezon’s bed. Quezon looked like the seasoned poker player that he was as he regarded his guests.
Judge Rosenman delivered a message from Roosevelt saying that Philippine independence would be granted after the Japs were driven out of the islands. It further mentioned that military air and naval bases would be retained in the Philippines, after the war.
Stimson added: “My greatest concern here is that I am worried that this immediate independence will have an adverse effect on the Filipinos.”
Quezon snapped: “When the question is about the effect of independence on the Filipinos, I am the man qualified to know that. More than any American or Filipino, I know the desires of my people. And besides, why should the element of Japanese presence in the Philippines be considered when, even if the war outlasts the year 1946, we shall be independent just the same, Japs or no Japs?”
It was Rosenman’s turn to speak. “That is a very important point. Why should we think of the Japs’ presence in the Philippines? If, even with the Japs still in the Philippines, we have to give them their independence, why don’t we give it now?” Apparently, Rosenman was already batting for Quezon.
Then Rosenman added: “What about the military reservations?”
Quezon snapped: “If you yourselves include that provision, the independence of the Philippines will be like that of Manchukuo.”
Quezon’s point was clear and decisive. If the provision for the retention of U.S. bases in the Philippines after her independence was included in the resolution without the consent of the Philippine government, it would be tantamount to having a puppet-style independence.
Quezon vindicated the rights of Philippine sovereignty. For, if the provision about military bases were to be included in the resolution, the Philippine sovereignty would be greatly enhanced. It would imply recognition of the technicality that U.S. bases were in the Philippines only upon the consent of the Filipinos themselves.
The emissaries of President Roosevelt certainly never expected to be outmaneuvered, but Quezon had them cornered, on their own grounds, using their policies and rules against them.
It was agreed by everybody present that the date of Philippine independence should be honored, regardless of Japanese occupation; and that American military and naval bases should be retained in the Philippines after independence, but on the behest of the Philippine government itself, for the mutual protection of both the P.I. and the U.S., as well as for the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
After brisk pleasantries, the Americans left the scene of what was a conference debacle for them. There was some back-slapping as Vice-President Osmeña assured his life-long opponent and rival: “Esta es el mejor triumfo de su vida.”
It might be objected that Quezon employed arbitrary tactics. No one doubted, however, that Quezon’s actions were sincere, motivated as they were by an incomparable nationalism that his people would long remember with pride and gratitude.
Indeed, the members of the Philippine government-in-exile have reason to congratulate themselves as they share the triumph of their ailing president. However, there was no room for unallayed rejoicing, for if Quezon was able to achieve this unprecedented victory, it was because of the strength of his legacy—the good name and prestige won by Filipino heroes in Bataan and Corregidor, men whom we could never forget.