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  • By Zaldy Dandan

Chamorro nationalism and Philippine independence

Saipan — Some Chamorro nationalists on Guam are looking into the history of the Philippines and how it eventually gained independence.

The short answer: the P.I. became independent because its people — or a majority of its voters at that time — wanted independence, and the U.S. — or the powers that be in the U.S. at that time — supported Philippine independence.

The same thing can be said about the CNMI whose voters, in 1975, chose political union with the U.S. whose government approved it.

The Marshalls, Palau and the FSM are independent nations in free association with the U.S. because that’s what the majority of their voters, in 1983, chose to be, and the U.S. concurred.

In January 1982, Guam held a political status plebiscite. Voter turnout was 37 percent, and the result was: commonwealth, 49 percent; statehood, 26 percent; status quo, 10 percent; incorporated territory, 5 percent; free association, 4 percent; independence, 4 percent; and “other,” 2 percent.

A second plebiscite was held in September 1982, and this time the choice was between commonwealth and statehood. Voter turnout was 83 percent, and the result: 73 percent, commonwealth; 27 percent, statehood.

Guam submitted a draft Commonwealth Act to the U.S. Congress, but it went nowhere. At that time, some key federal officials were unhappy with the Commonwealth of the NMI and were apparently not in the mood to have yet another commonwealth that controlled its labor and immigration policies.

Guam leaders and advocates want native inhabitants to decide their future political status. In March 2017, however, the federal court on Guam ruled that “allowing only the island’s native inhabitants to vote for Guam’s future political status is race-based discrimination.” Guam Governor Eddie Calvo said he was disappointed with the ruling, adding that he would seek “whatever legal remedies may be available, including an appeal….”

From the get-go, the U.S. presence in the Philippines was supposed to be something like the musical “My Fair Lady” — but with massacres and repression. Uncle Sam would be Professor Henry Higgins to Filipinas as Eliza Doolittle. The U.S. said it would save Filipinos from themselves, and prepare them for eventual self-government and independence. (The U.S. also wanted a springboard to China where the other big powers were already “engaged in the profitable business of dividing the Chinese ‘melon.’)

For the U.S., the question was never “Should the P.I. be independent?,” but “When?”

In the 56th U.S. Congress (1899-1901), “no fewer than eight resolutions and amendments were introduced with Philippine independence as their goal.

As the late Cornell University professor Frank Hindman Golay noted in his 1997 book, Face of Empire: United States-Philippine Relations, 1898-1946, “Democrats and Republicans alike were repelled by the prospect of extending American citizenship to Filipinos and facing the unrestricted competition of Philippine products and labor.”

As another historian noted, “the principal consideration behind the fixing of a time-table for [Philippine] independence was pressure from American agricultural interests which felt themselves threatened by the steady increase of duty-free imports into the states of Philippine sugar, coconut oil and cordage.”

Or as U.S. Senator Huey Long of Louisiana put it, “We do not need to worry about the Filipinos. The Lord put them over there in a country where they do not need to have shoes…. We need to protect our own sugar industry. That is why we need to get them [Filipinos] out of the way. We have no business being hooked up with them.”

In addition to having agricultural products that competed with America’s, and having so many colored people — millions of them, some of whom were animistic head-hunters or Muslims — the P.I. was also too far away from the U.S. In a 1907 letter to his Secretary of War William Howard Taft, the P.I.’s first American civil governor, President Theodore Roosevelt said the Philippine Islands “form our heel of Achilles. They are all that makes the present situation with Japan dangerous…. I should be glad to see the islands made independent….”

The feeling was mutual.

Under Governor Taft, the U.S. sponsored the creation of the first P.I. political party in 1900, the pro-American Partido Federalista which advocated for statehood. But Taft’s successor, Luke E. Wright, admitted to U.S. lawmakers in 1905 that “there was no significant organization of Filipinos ‘that stands for American rule.’ ”

The Partido Nacionalista, whose slogan was “immediate, absolute and complete independence,” dominated Philippine politics during U.S. colonial rule. Filipino Senator Claro M. Recto would later recall, “The issue of anti-Americanism was so popular that it made the electorate overlook the…years of corrupt administration the so-called anti-American [Nacionalistas] had been giving the people and which had all but ruined the country….”

In 1929, during a closed-door meeting of the Nacionalistas, their leader, Don Manuel Luis Quezon y Molina, reminded them that “the only ones who sincerely want immediate independence are those members of our masses who do not know any better or are too ignorant to understand the consequences that would follow….”

Zaldy Dandan is a long-time resident of Saipan and editor of the Marianas Variety.

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