Living up to the main plank of the Nacionalista Party which he had himself drafted—immediate independence—Speaker Sergio Osmeña, at the close of the first session of the Philippine Assembly in 1908, solemnly declared that if America should decide at that instant on the Filipino people’s freedom, they would be completely capable of meeting their consequent responsibilities. Simultaneously, he launched the peaceful quest for independence which led directly to actual independence on July 4, 1946.
The Osmeña Declaration is less known than the Aguinaldo Declaration of Independence from Spain because it was not as bellicose and challenging. He was careful not to utter anything that could be considered seditious or revolutionary, much less could he declare the independence of the country from America. The attending circumstances were completely different from those of the Jefferson Declaration or of the Aguinaldo Declaration patterned after it. The Osmeña Declaration had to be a correct diplomatic document.
Furthermore, for no historical reason, President Macapagal, by executive order, moved the date of Philippine independence from July 4, which the Independence Law fixed, to June 12, the date of Aguinaldo’s Declaration, thus resurrecting the Aguinaldo Declaration and obscuring Osmeña’s. In 1898, Aguinaldo was at war with the Spanish forces again, by invitation of Admiral Dewey who had brought him back on one of his ships from Hong Kong.
The Aguinaldo Declaration led almost immediately to the organization of the Malolos Republic which also almost immediately perished in the ensuing Philippine-American conflict. Although the Malolos Congress framed a Constitution, it was operative for the briefest time, like the Malolos Republic, and hardly affected the life of the nation or of the people. Many of the highest officials of the Republic deserted almost as soon as they had been appointed when war with America became imminent. The war swallowed the Malolos Republic, proving the basic untruthfulness of the Aguinaldo Declaration, which claimed the protection of the “North American Nation.” Still to organize its own government, Aguinaldo’s group could neither claim to represent the people. The Malolos Republic was a brief episode in Philippine history, with Aguinaldo riding the blast of wind that extruded when the new American regime in the Philippines firmly telescoped itself into the old Spanish regime to fuse into a continuous colonial history.
The primary purpose of a declaration of independence is to announce the birth of a new nation with a duly constituted government. This is why the United States dates its birth on the day the Jefferson Declaration was approved by the Continental Congress, July 4, 1776. The Aguinaldo Declaration was read to the public before there was any Malolos Republic. The Osmeña Declaration was made after the Filipinos had acquired legislative autonomy, the first step towards the creation of the present Philippine Republic.
On June 19, 1908, as the legislative session that had begun with the inauguration of the Philippine Assembly on October 16, 1907, was closing, Speaker Osmeña stood inspired at the rostrum of the Assembly’s session hall in the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros, and delivered an address that concluded with the Filipinos’ only constitutional, democratic, and authentic Declaration of Independence. This Declaration was, in many respects, more timely and more meaningful—and certainly more fruitful than the previous nationalist declarations made by the ill-fated Andres Bonifacio and General Aguinaldo. It was the only one that had a democratic and constitutional basis, like the Declaration of Thomas Jefferson, and the only one that directly resulted in permanent national independence, like that of Jefferson.
The Aguinaldo Declaration was written and read, by the order of General Aguinaldo, by his Auditor of War before a small gathering in Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite, and said in part: “Under the protection of the mighty and humanitarian nation, North America, we proclaim and solemnly declare in the name and by authority of the inhabitants of these Philippine Islands that they are and have the right to be free and independent . . . of Spain.” These statements proved to be untrue. The Aguinaldo government did not have the protection of America, otherwise the Philippine-American conflict would not have happened. It did not have the authority of the inhabitants of the Philippines. Aguinaldo and his group did not yet have a government. Subsequently, however, the Declaration was “ratified” by a Convention of Municipal Presidents in Bacoor, Cavite, and, later, also by the Malolos Congress. This was the opposite of the procedure that produced the Jefferson Declaration. There was an existing American revolutionary government called the Second Continental Congress which created a committee of its members to draft the Declaration of Independence. In the committee were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingstone. As Jefferson had done almost all the writing, it inevitably came to be called the Jefferson Declaration.
The Osmeña Declaration, on the other hand, reads:
Gentlemen of the Assembly, with your consent, upon my conscience, as an Assemblyman and as a representative of the country, and on my responsibility as speaker of this House, I declare solemnly before God and before the world that we believe that our people aspire for independence; that they consider themselves capable of conducting an ordered life, efficacious for themselves and for others in the concept of free and civilized nations; and that we believe that if at this instant, the people of the United States should decide the case of the Filipinos in favor of their liberty, they would, upon assuming all the responsibilities, be able to comply with their duties to themselves and to others, without detriment to liberty, justice and right.
The Osmeña Declaration of Independence brought all the Assemblymen to their feet, applauding fervently, both as an ovation to their speaker and as a dramatic endorsement of his Declaration. They embodied the complete Declaration in a resolution addressed to the President and Congress of the United States, resolving that the Assembly adopt the Declaration as its own and that copies be sent to the Resident Commissioners in the U.S. Congress for delivery to the President and the Congress. The opposition Assemblymen signed with their colleagues although some of them with reservations. The resolution started the 38-year continuous campaign for independence which was later financed from a continuous annual appropriation of P1,000,000 and, from 1919, highlighted by periodic Independence Missions to America.
To be sure, the Osmeña Declaration does not follow the pattern and format of the Jefferson Declaration as the Aguinaldo Declaration does. The Jefferson Declaration was ordered drafted by the American Government during the revolution against Great Britain and became the cry of the people until independence was attained 13 years later.
If we must anchor our Independence upon a Declaration of Independence, it is perfectly logical and historical to do so on the Osmeña Declaration which, after 38 years, directly resulted in the Independence of 1946.
There is no iota of historical reason to reckon it from the Aguinaldo Declaration of 1898. Since President Macapagal moved the date of Philippine Independence arbitrarily from July 4 to June 12, which is the date of Aguinaldo’s Declaration, even the government and the press have been wrongly counting the age of our independence from 1898.
The centennial celebration the government is preparing for 1998 must be for a historical event that happened one hundred years before this year, or 1898. The Aguinaldo Declaration of Independence and the organization of the Malolos Republic happened in 1898 and 1899, respectively. But they were not earth-shaking enough to merit a centennial celebration. The Aguinaldo Declaration of Independence from Spain was premised on false assumptions, and the Malolos Republic that resulted from it lasted only briefly. Spain did not recognize it nor did any other country. If some feel that the present Republic was born in 1898, the assumption is farfetched and ridiculous.
In fact, a recent magazine article magnifies the error of this historical monstrosity. In a presumed historical account, Ambeth R. Ocampo, under the title “Thank You, America” (Inquirer Sunday Magazine, 3 July 1994), claims that the Proclamation of President Truman on July 4, 1946, did not ‘grant’ nor ‘give’ us independence—it recognized the independence that rightfully belonged to us since 1898. This is a ridiculous and far-fetched interpretation of our history, yet only some such a pseudo-historical theory can justify both the change of independence date from July 4 to June 12 and the Independence Centennial that the government is preparing to celebrate in 1998.
The Ocampo interpretation is wrong and ridiculous because the Truman proclamation he talks about was mandated by the Independence Law, Section 10(a) of which states:
On the 4th day of July immediately following the expiration of a period of ten years from the date of inauguration of the new government under the constitution provided for in this act, the President of the United States shall by proclamation withdraw and surrender all right of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control or sovereignty then existing and exercised by the United States on and over the territory and people of the Philippine Islands, including all military and other reservations of the United States in the Philippines (except such naval reservations and fuelling stations as are reserved under Section 5) and, on behalf of the United States, shall recognize the independence of the Philippine Islands as a separate and self-governing nation and acknowledge the authority and control over the same of the government instituted by the people thereof, under the Constitution then in force.
Salvador H. Laurel, chairman of the National Centennial Commission, in an article entitled “Rizal’s Vision: A Hundred Years Later,” printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of June 8, 1994, declared categorically: “Four years from now the Philippines will be celebrating its centenary as a sovereign nation.” According to established history, only in 1946 did the Philippines become a truly sovereign nation, and this was under the Independence Law enacted by the American Congress in 1933-34. A Republic was set up in 1899 by General Aguinaldo, to be sure, but it lived only very briefly without attaining full nationhood and achieving anything of note.
The Malolos Republic was proclaimed—nothing more. It was never recognized by Spain nor by any other nation. It was not enough of an event to deserve a centennial celebration. Subjecting it to the critical scrutiny of a centennial celebration may do it more harm than good. If the purpose is to rehabilitate General Aguinaldo from the unfair and brutal denigration he suffered from Quezon, whom he had made very angry for siding with General Wood in their infamous controversy, this may be accomplished more smoothly and effectively by a dignified assembly, mostly of accredited historians, who may recommend the few things that should be done, perhaps, including the construction of an Aguinaldo monument in Rizal Park. Overexposing the General and the Malolos Republic in a centennial celebration may prove to be counter-productive.
As for Osmeña, it was perhaps historic justice that he should have been the actual head of the 1931-33 independence mission that obtained the only Independence Law from America. Quezon’s fear of being eclipsed politically led him to spoil the Osmeña-Roxas triumph. The so-called Tydings-McDuffie Law which he brought home was the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence Law with a single substantial amendment. Changing the names of its authors with the names of those who introduced the one substantial amendment was an effective way, at least in the popular mind, of depriving Osmeña and Roxas and the other members of the mission of all the credit for their magnificent labor of two trying years in Washington. During that time, Quezon humiliated them in many ways, including discontinuing their allowances. Also Quezon’s victims, like General Aguinaldo, they also deserve to be rehabilitated.
What Osmeña tried to get Quezon to agree on in 1933 was to accept the Hares-Hawes-Cutting Law with its imperfections and to request the incoming Roosevelt administration, in 1935 or even later, when the frantic effort to retrieve America from the jaws of the Economic Depression of 1929-39 had been won, to effect most of the desired improvements. Quezon’s forecast that the Roosevelt administration would be more accommodating than the Hoover administration was correct. It was also obvious. It was wrong for him to have gone to Washington so early during the Roosevelt administration, however, and he almost failed to get anything. He had a long wait before Roosevelt paid him any attention. In fact, he had already given up. He had given his traditional farewell banquet to the Secretary of War and had designated Senator Elpidio Quirino, his chief of staff, the acting head of his mission while he goes home to relieve the anxiety of his followers, when Roosevelt at last asked Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs, to devise a compromise to stop the raging fratricidal political war in Manila that Quezon had started.
Perhaps, the War Secretary had felt Quezon’s disappointment that he was going home empty-handed and had conveyed the feeling to Roosevelt who at once discussed what to do with Senator Tydings. The two agreed on a compromise of giving Quezon one substantial amendment instead of the five or six he wanted. Compromise? Quezon converted it into a grand triumph. The amendment eliminated the promise allowing the U.S. to maintain military and naval bases in the Philippines even after independence. Tydings introduced the amended law in the Senate and Congressman John McDuffie of Alabama, chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs, did the same in his chamber. Quezon promptly named the amended law Tydings-McDuffie, identifying it by the tail, rather than the face, deceiving the Philippine public, at best still gullible, that he brought home an entirely new law completely secured by him. Osmeña, Roxas and the other members of OSROX were neatly deprived of all credit for their almost two years of continuous work in Washington.
By his relentness opposition to the Independence Law, Quezon delayed the coming of independence by about two years. Even if it is admitted that the delay was compensated for by the deletion of the military bases provision, he lost this gain during the war by actively promoting U.S. Congress Resolution 93, which provided that Philippine independence would be advanced if the Japanese could be driven away early enough, and that America would build bases in the Philippines to protect the country from future dangers of war.
This is why, after the Philippines became an independent Republic with Manuel Roxas as its first President, an American panel and a Philippine panel met in Baguio to negotiate the base sites necessary to build more American bases in the Philippines. Vice-President Elpidio Quirino, concurrently first Secretary of Foreign Affairs, headed the Philippine panel. He told me, when I joined his staff soon after the Baguio conference, that he had an agreement with President Roxas that he would make it tough for the Americans to acquire new base sites so that they would appeal to Roxas who would then be more accommodating.
I think Quirino got the worse of the bargain. He unfairly acquired the reputation of being anti-American. This became the basis of the total American support for Ramon Magsaysay, who defeated Quirino in the election for President in 1955. In addition, he suffered a heart attack during the Baguio negotiations and his physicians sent him on a sea voyage to rest. While Quirino was at sea, President Roxas died of a heart attack while he was a guest of the Americans at Clark Field, undoubtedly as part of the hospitality they were showing him for his more reasonable stand on the new base sites.
When the proposed extension of the U.S. lease on Subic Bay was under consideration in the Senate in 1991, Quezon was quoted freely as against the American bases. He had, indeed, strongly opposed American bases during the protracted debate on the Hares-Hawes-Cutting Independence Law, but he changed his mind during the war when he actively supported U.S. Congress Resolution 93. Even if the developments in America affecting the Philippines during the war were not generally known in the Philippines in 1991, the American acquisition of some 20 new base sites during the early years of the Roxas administration should have been general current knowledge at the time. Thus, Quezon’s chameleonic habit unnecessarily impaired Philippine-American relations.
Yet, in what Quezon called “My last testament to my people” that he entrusted to President Roosevelt, he advised: “After the lessons of the present war, one would be very blind indeed not to see that the post-war relationship between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of the United States should be close, if not closer, than our relationship before the war. The security of both the United States and the Philippines, and perhaps the future peace of the Pacific, will depend very much on that relationship. Moreover such a relationship is vital for the future influence of occidental civilization in the Far East.”
The greatest achievement of the Centennial should not be to perpetuate and aggravate the existing confusion in our history, but to render it straight and true on the basis of research, scholarship and statesmanship.
9 September 1990
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Vicente Albano Pacis was born in Vintar, Ilocos Norte, on 24 August 1901. He finished his AB at the University of Illinois (1924) and MA at the University of Wisconsin (1925). After a stint working with a newspaper in Milwaukee and Associated Press in Washington, D.C., he served as editor of Graphic, Evening News, and Philippines Herald, and executive editor of the Ramon Roces Publications. His books include Philippine Government and Politics, A Second Look at America (with Emilio Aguinaldo), and the two-volume President Sergio Osmeña: A Fully-Documented Biography. He served as vice-president of the University of the East, press secretary to President Quirino, information director of SEATO, and ambassador to Geneva.