Philippine History Part II – State. Section 3 – Philippine Commonwealth

Quezon and McArthur

Based on the Tydings-McDuffie Act and the resulting Constitutional Convention in 1934, the Philippine Commonwealth and the 1935 Constitution were created. Presidential elections were held and won by Manuel L. Quezon (Nacionalista Party), with Emilio Aguinaldo (National Socialist Party) and Gregorio Aglipay (Republican Party) behind them. The National Defense Act was passed, with the Office of the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed to be Field Marshal of the Philippine Army.

Aguinaldo and Quezon in 1935

Aguinaldo and Quezon in 1935


McArthur inducts the Philippine Army Air Corps in 1941 at Camp Murphy, now Camp Aguinaldo

 MacArthur had the intention of making the Philippines self-reliant in its defense:

“A small fleet will have distinct effect in compelling any hostile force to approach cautiously. The only naval task is that of inshore defense. This will be provided by flotillas of fast torpedo boats, supported by an air force”

“These islands have enormous defensive advantages. Luzon has only 2 areas where a hostile army could land. Each of these positions is broken by strong defensive positions.”

“When developed the Philippine Army will be strong enough to oppose any conceivable expeditionary force. By 1946, the Islands will be in a favorable posture of defensive security.”

President Manuel L. Quezon built up the state with a number of impressive measures in the areas of social justice, agrarian reform, education and giving women the right to vote.

Tagalog was adopted as the basis for the national language, Filipino. The COMELEC was established in 1940.

The Japanese invaded in late 1941 and interrupted all of this.

The Japanese occupation

Jose P. Laurel

Jose P. Laurel

Luis Taruc

Luis Taruc

MacArthur, Quezon and Osmeña left the Philippines. The remaining combined Filipino and American troops surrendered in May 1942.

 Quezon and Osmeña set up a government-in-exile, while the Japanese set up a puppet government under Jose P. Laurel. Sergio Osmeña became President of the government-in-exile after Quezon died of tuberculosis in the United States.

The Japanese met with enormous resistance from guerrila groups: Philippine Army soldiers, USAFFE soldiers and Filipino Muslims. American submarines supplied some groups. The communist Hukbalahap were also formed under Luis Taruc in Central Luzon.

Former Katipunan General Artemio Ricarte, also known as “El Vibora” (The Viper), returned from Japanese exile. He was instrumental in setting up the Makapili, who cooperated with the Japanese Kempetai – as informers against the guerrilas.

All of this plus food shortages and severe inflation made times very difficult. Some people were place into internment camps. Numerous atrocities were commited against civilians by the Japanese Imperial Army.

McArthur returns

MacArthur, Kenney and Sutherland

Lt. General Kenney, Lt. General Sutherland, President Osmeña, General MacArthur

In October 1944, McArthur landed in Leyte with President Osmeña. Manila was reconquered in February to March 1945 but was heavily devastated, especially the old Spanish quarter of Intramuros. Japanese troops massacred, raped and mutilated countless people.

The Philippines Campaign retook all major Philippine islands by April, yet fighting continued until final Japanese surrender in August 1945. The last Japanese holdout was found in Mindoro jungles in 1974.

President Osmeña restored the Commonwealth. The Philippines became a founding member of the United Nations and the IMF. In the last Commonwealth Presidential election held in 1946, Sergio Osmeña (Nacionalista Party) lost against Manuel Roxas (Liberal Party). Roxas was instrumental in facilitating approval of the Bell Trade Act, which granted the United States preferential terms in trade in exchange for rebuilding funds.

On the 4th of July 1946, the Philippines became formally independent, yet strongly bound to the United States by military bases and trade agreements. The state was damaged but fully formed. The nation was still to go through many trials.

One of the technical assistants to President Manuel Roxas was a then 29 year old lawyer named Ferdinand Marcos, who was at that time still with the Liberal Party. Before the war, Marcos had passed his bar exam and successfully defended himself from prison against charges of murdering his father’s political rival…

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, June 12, 2015.

P.S. In-depth related articles: (will be updated as they appear)

Series on McArthur by guest author Bill in Oz:

I am working on a Quezon biography. Manong sonny is working on a history of the Commonwealth Army.

75 thoughts on “Philippine History Part II – State. Section 3 – Philippine Commonwealth


    Diary of Ramon A. Alcaraz
    June 16,1942

    The Malolos Women’s Club under the leadership of Mrs. Cristina Magsaysay Cuenca continues to help the Malolos POWs. As mentioned before, when they found out that we were sleeping on bare cold concrete prison floors during our early days here, they lost no time providing each of us mattresses and other beddings including mosquito nets. Today Mrs. Cuenca accompanied by her able assistant, Miss Luming Flor R. Cruz (whose brother, Perico, is graduating from West Point this month) visited us. I learned from them that they have already made two trips each to Camp O’Donnell and Camp Cabanatuan bringing medicine. They told us the deplorable conditions of POWs at O’Donnell where daily deaths are reported at 400 to 500. Other Ladies Group leaders performing similar civic assistance to POWs at Camp O’Donnell Mrs. Cuenca mentioned are Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda, Mrs. Pilar Hidalgo Lim (wife of Gen. Vicente Lim) and Miss Lulu Reyes, a prominent social worker of Ermita well known to OSP student officers of Class ’41 that boarded with her.

    And so today, let me salute all our courageous and patriotic women for all their effort to help our POWs where ever they are.


    Diary of Victor Buencamino, April 30, 1942:
    Submitted to Mrs. Escoda the following list embodying the urgent needs of war prisoners in accordance with wishes expressed by officers and men now in Capaz.
    I. FOOD
    A. Organization: N.F.W.C., Girl’s Scouts, etc.
    B. Necessary items: 1, rice; 2. mongo; 3. salt; 4. sugar, panocha; 5. camote, cassava, gabi; 6. lime, calamansi; 7. galletas, biscuits; 8. bananas, papaya, mangoes, guavas—any kind of fruit in season; 9. coffee, tea, ginger; 10. milk; 11. salted eggs.
    A. Organization: Department of Health
    B. Necessary items: 1. quinine, iodine, mercurochrome; 4. disinfectants (kreso, lysol, bichloride); 5. alcohol; 6. muslin for bandages; 7. tape; 8. cotton or kapok; 9. sulfathiazol.
    A. Organization: Women’s Committee
    B. Necessary items; 1. undershirts, shirts, shorts, sweaters, socks; 2. blankets; 3. shoes, slippers; 4. towels.
    1. Personal solicitation. 2. Contribution in kind.
    A men’s committee to take charge of arrangements for trucks, jitneys, etc., to transport personnel and supplies.
    1. Cooking; 2. forks, knives, spoons, pans, bottles; 3. pitchers, basins; 4. rake, shovel, pick, brooms; 5. empty cans for glasses; 6. tissue paper; 7. empty gasoline cans for water and water wagons.
    1. Bureau of Health; 2. Women’s committee.
    Field workers operating under groups in charge of distribution are to be limited to Bureau of Health doctors, nurses, social workers There must be a strong, aggressive, efficient leader.
    1. fuel; 2. cigarettes; 3. matches
    The chief consideration is time. Relief must reach the camps with as little loss of time possible if more deaths are to be averted. Average deaths per day according to more accurate reports are over five hundred.
    The Japanese are still very strict. They do not permit visitors. They prohibit relatives from sending food and medicine to the captives.
    There is a rumor that one of the staff officers of the Japanese Army called Gen. Homma’s attention to the inhuman treatment accorded Filipino and American war prisoners. Gen. Homma was said to have answered: “Let them die, to atone for the thousands among us that also died.”
    Today’s Tribune shows pictures of Recto, Yulo and Paredes drinking a toast with Japanese staff officers in a Malacañan reception.
    Teofilo Yldefonso, world-famous breaststroker, several years Far Eastern Olympics’ record holder, died in Capaz. He was wounded in Bataan. In the concentration camp, gangrene developed in his wounds. No medicine could get to him. He died in a lonely nipa shed.
    Today’s Tribune carriers a front-page item in bold type entitled “Correction” which gives an idea of Japanese mentality. The story follows:
    “In yesterday’s editorial we made a mistake using the words ‘His Imperial Highness’ instead of ‘His Imperial Majestry.’ We hereby express our sincere regret about the matter.”
    The Japanese soldier is not merely fired with patriotism. He is also inspired by a religious motive. The Emperor is his god.
    Philip’s intimate friend, Johnnie Ladaw, was reported killed in Bataan, two hours after surrender. He was machine-gunned by a tank. Johnnie was No. 3 national ranking [tennis] player. He defeated Frank Kovacs of the U.S. at the Rizal court several months before the war.
    When I look at our tennis court, I seem to see him. He was always smiling. Maybe he died smiling…


    But beyond comparing personalities, I do believe we must remain in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction with what we have now. I have always borne in mind the memoirs of an American communist, Sol Auerbach, who recounted having asked Manuel L. Quezon about the secret behind his tremendous political success. Quezon’s answer surprised the communist: “He answered without hesitation, — have always realized that power rests in the masses.” The American then went on to recount the candid thoughts of the Filipino leader: “Not that he thought much of democracy, either in its formal aspect or in its essence, he was quick to add. The country had never been democratic, he explained, nor was it now democratic despite the pretensions of the Constitution and the Commonwealth setup. Only few know what democracy is, he continued, and these are disgruntled individuals like the young writers of Manila and some leaders of the Popular Alliance. He had postponed the first local elections to be held under the Commonwealth, and I wanted to know why. Elections mean nothing, he said, since they are controlled by the landed rich and the cacique.”
    Democracy is our national ideal; but its past and present conditions have always left much to be desired. Instead of perfecting it, we have abused and debased it. The least we can do is achieve the democracy of the past; the best we should hope to do is have a society at least marginally more democratic than the one that existed before we were born. I happen to think we should be secure enough in the efforts of past generations to realize we can improve on their work.
    The second question is, doesn’t my support for constitutionalism and my love for history contradict my belief that wide-ranging changes are required? I see no contradiction between giving the existing constitutional order every chance to heal itself (and keep itself relevant) and the need to keep pressing forward, so that if the system proves itself incapable of reform, then at least a preparatory debate has taken place for more radical changes.
    To remain stuck is to invite disaster. This realization is nothing new. In the same memoir, the American communist recounts Quezon explaining in 1937 that he wanted to set up institutions such as the National Rice and Corn Corp. (today’s National Food Authority). Quezon went on to tell the American something that remains relevant to this day: “For the rest, he was engaged in solving the problem in his own way – by putting the fear of the masses into the hearts of the wealthy land barons. “Tell them, if you know what’s good for you, better improve the conditions of your tenants. You do not have enough sons for the army, so we must conscript our soldiers from the poor. We put guns in their hands and teach them how to use them. If you are not careful, they will use those guns against you. If you want to save what you have, give them ten percent of it or they will take it all.”
    That was true in 1937, it is true today – the situation made worse because of three generations of delayed reforms. Instead of faith, we have fear – so much of it, and from which I myself often suffer – of rebels, of revolutionaries, of those not from the status quo. A passage from Leon Maria Guerrero always reminds me to resist those fears. In trying to explain why Ms Aurora Quezon was killed by peasants when she had tried so hard to help them, Guerrero wrote, “People who ask this have never been hunted. They have never starved and shivered in hiding. They have never felt that the hand of every man was turned against them. But the outcasts of society, or those society has made outcasts, no longer recognize any duties to it. Humanity is their enemy.”
    “All those who have homes while they lack a roof over their heads; who have food on their tables while they must pick the fruits and berries of the forest; who have clothes on their backs while their own rags are torn in the underbrush; who can sleep secure while they must start with panic at the sound of every twig breaking in the night – all those are their enemies. And they wait for a time when they can hit back, briefly, blindly, but enough to suit their wild envy and humbled pride; they watch the laborers clearing the winding road; they watch the bright banners of welcome waving in the forbidden towns – an enemy comes, one of the happy and secure – they watch the long rich plumes of dust sweeping across the gorges from the road, their hand is eager on the smooth barrel of the gun, one more chance to get back at them, no matter who, no matter if the gentle lady in the official car is a friend, for they have no friends, and so they press the trigger.”


    Diary of Ramon Alcaraz, July 27, 1941:

    I did not pay so much attention when Lt. Sid Huff, USN, our OSP Advisor on the Staff of Gen. MacArthur, told me last month that his Boss may be Called to Active Duty. Today, its impact is manifested after reading the front page news about Pres. Quezon’s Proclamation No. 740, announcing the Military Orders of US Pres. FDR dated July 26, 1941 that the Phil Army is called into the service of a newly formed United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) and Lt Gen MacArthur CAD and designated as Comdg. General. We read the announcement with serious trepidation but glad the USA is reacting to the realities of what is happening in the area with the Japanese building its military forces in French Indo China. It is also reported that Japanese troops are flooding Cambodia and Thailand with the consent of the French Vichy government.

    I had dinner at Tom’s Dixie hosted by Lt. Tony Chanco USMA ’38 and with him were Lts. Vicente E. Gepte USMA ’40 and my Mistah and Tocayo, Ramon Olbes. The main topic of our discussion was the USAFFE whose new HQ will be at Victoria St, Intramuros a few blocks from OSP Hq at Port Area, Manila.


      ..One other aim of the Commonwealth government-in-exile – one which had been a dream of Quezon – was the establishment of a Malay confederation and the eventual decolonization of Southeast Asia. Quezon even felt that the Atlantic Charter – which guaranteed the basic rights of man – could be applied to Southeast Asia. The Philippine example – independence in 1946 – could serve as an example for the world, he believed. However, as time wore on, Quezon realized that while Roosevelt may personally have favored decolonization, Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain, and the other imperial powers, did not favor the idea of giving up their colonies…

      ..I asked him whether, in the peace settlement, the Dutch East Indies would be given back to the Netherlands? He replied: “That would be an outrage. The Malays should be allowed to unite. For years the Javanese have been looking to the Filipinos to lead them to freedom. The movement started when General Wood was Governor General; we smuggled their leaders into the Philippines with the connivance of the Collector of Customs (Aldanese); Ramon Fernandez helped them and gave them money. I must soon begin to work on this with the English, the Australians and the New Zealanders. At the Peace Conference, I intend to make a loud noise. If we were to be united politically, I would be willing to have the capital in Java. It is not mere numbers that count, but intelligence.”..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *