with excerpts from the book “The Commonwealth Army” by Professor Ricardo Trota Jose
“… an army which like the eagle, exuded confidence and security while suffering, behind its proud mien, a multitude of perplexing problems. War reached the Philippines before all the problems could be identified and addressed …”
Independence missions to US from 1920s, 1930s culminated in Feb, 1930, when the First Independence Congress was formed in Manila; President Roosevelt on March 24, 1934 approved the Tydings-McDuffie Act which provided for the creation of a 10-year PH Commonwealth as precursor to granting of independence in 1946; this in turn was approved by the colonial Senate on May 1, 1934; In July 10, 1934 delegates were elected for a constitutional convention; March 23, 1935 Roosevelt approved Commonwealth Constitution; and then in Nov 1935, the Commonwealth was created/inaugurated, withQuezon as President;
Backtrack to the period before 1934
The First Philippine commission sent by President McKinley acknowledged the independence aspirations of the Filipinos but also added they were not ready to govern themselves. And so the First Philippine Commission recommended the establishment of a civilian govt as rapidly as possible. This meant the substitution of a civilian governor in place of the military governor. This also included the establishment of a bicameral legislature, autonomous govts in the provincial and municipal levels and system of free elementary public schools. The Second Philippine Commission (March, 1900) under William Howard Taft was also given limited executive powers. Between 1900 and 1902, the legislature created 499 laws.
At the end of The Philippine-American War, after July 4, 1901, it must be noted that the participants of the war in general reverted to civilian life and dispersed into the colonial life of the nation.
The colonial “military” community consisted of the Philippine Constabulary, Philippine Scouts, Philippine National Guard and various semi-military groups unconnected with conventional troops and finally ROTC groups sponsored privately.
In July 1901, the Philippine Constabulary was established as the police force over the entire islands. At first this consisted of American volunteers mustering out of the US troops. In addition there were auditors from other nationalities such as Belgians, Irish, Poles, French, German, Italian, Turks, Cuban. Most had foreign war experiences, the rest were recruited from the local provinces and towns.
The period from 1902 through 1934 witnessed the consolidation of civilian life and was marked by the pursuit of socio-economic concerns. Aside from these, the same period saw the movement towards independence.
The Philippine Scouts (Sep, 1899 – 1945), civilians initially recruited from Central Luzon to serve as guides, boatmen, occasionally fighters attached to American volunteers, then numbered by July, 1901, 34 companies (7 Macabebe, 11 Ilocano, 4 Cagayano, 1 Bohol, 1 Cebu, 2 Negros, 8 Panay). Many recruits served in the Spanish-Philippine conflict and the Philippine-American one.
Philippine National Guard (1917 – end of WW1), 15,800. The division was a federal body that was formed by Quezon to show loyalty and allegiance to the US. They were trained 3 months but disbanded right after WW1.
Semi-military groups (1912): These had no connection to conventional troops, but rather were privately sponsored – ROTC units from UP and Ateneo de Manila. Later on encouraged by Governor Leonard Wood, units from other colleges in Manila underwent training as long as officers were available. Similar groups were the First Semi-military Unit of Insular Employees (1923), National Volunteers of the Philippines (1932) composed of politicians, lawyers, landowners; the Phil Reserve Officers Associations (PROA, 1920s) composed of reserve officers, US Army.
When the first Philippine Independence Congress was formed in Manila in Feb, 1930 the matter of national defense was not foremost in the minds of the majority of politicians. Discussions instead were done at informal meetings of national defense groups and from these a pervasive attitude there was a trust that deferred to organizations such as the League of Nations and treaties like the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy. Quezon listened to these discussions but quietly decided to seek counsel with Gen MacArthur (Chief of Staff, US Army, 1932-1937) on the subject of national defense. Before this assignment, MacArthur had three tours of duty in the Philippines and had a special affection for the islands.
On March 24, 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved. This legislation guaranteed the granting of Philippine independence. As provided by the Act, on 1934 July 30, the National Assembly elected delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The Committee of National Defense (CND) was created (Jose Alejandrino, chairman, Teodoro Sandiko, Antonio Montesa), all three were generals in the Revolutionary Army. On Aug 6, the Committee recommended to Constitutional Convention provisions on: compulsory military service, organization of a standing army and militia, compulsory civil service, nationalization and organization of industries, essential resources, transportation, communications related to defense, and created the Department of National Defense to oversee national defense and control a national police force. The Committee of National Defense recommended 2 general principles on policy of national defense: 1- renounce war as national policy, and follow International Law’s lead, 2- have the groundwork for mobilization in time of emergency and war. After discussion and debate, both were submitted to the Constitutional Convention.
With Quezon working with MacArthur, in November 1934 the Constitutional Convention put out Bill 735 authored by Claudio Sandoval: title “An Act Creating the Bureau of National Defense in the Government of the Phillippine Islands, Defining Its Powers and Duties;” the Bill covered:
- training of officers,
- creation of reserve corps of officers and enlisted men,
- compulsory military education in schools, colleges, universities,
- funding scholarships in military and naval schools in US and other countries
Governor General Frank Murphy vetoed the Bill and asked for more thorough study and consultation with experienced military professionals. In autumn 1934, Quezon went to Washington DC to request that legislation authorizing MacArthur to head a Military Mission to the Philippines, and Quezon formally requested for MacArthur’s services for the Philippines. On this trip Quezon also requested that Secretary of War George Dern include the Philippines in a 1926 Act that detailed the conduct of military missions. In November 1934, MacArthur assigned Lt Col Dwight Eisenhower and Lt Col James Ord to study the most effective and economical means to defend the Philippines. The following December, MacArthur met with Sec Dern and President Roosevelt regarding his Philippine assignment. At this time Governor General Murphy accepts the position of High Commissioner. In the islands, the Constitutional Convention laid the legal groundwork as the technicalities were worked out in the US. The Philippine Legislature authorized the creation of a PC aviation unit and allotted funds for aircraft procurement and pilot and mechanic training. This seemed to signal preparations for the PC to become the new Philippine Army.
National defense discussions continued into 1935. Major Vicente Lim of the Philippine Scouts, the first Filipino graduate of West Point, and Major Fidel Segundo, also of the Philippine Scouts and a West Point graduate, favored an army created from scratch that would create and train its officer corps and grow its own esprit d’corps. L. Siguion Reyna, technical adviser to the secretary of the Interior envisioned an army from the Belgian and Swiss models, operating at maximum effectiveness at minimum cost. A navy is out of the question because of the cost but a coast artillery corps and an air corps could be developed to insure protection from threats at sea. He also stated that a small regular force and large reserve force and militia would be best costwise and pointed out that the army must be useful in times of peace and war lest the country be at risk of overwhelming taxpayers.
Voluntary Service like the US system was least desirable due to slow readiness and was expensive in the long run. Another system from Prussia and Japan consisted of mandatory 2- or 3-year military service from all males. A third system from the Swiss and Australian model reconciling democratic and military strength received most attention.
Even as discussions were still going on, the plan as developed stateside by the US military mission was adopted. The Plan was drawn by then Major Eisenhower from MacArthur’s Army staff and Major James Ord from the Army War College. Their first version was rejected by MacArthur because of cost even though it came from the best parameters: minimization of cost was secondary to effectiveness under Philippine conditions. A second version was drawn requiring 1,500 officers and 19,000 men and the lowest annual cost of 22 million pesos. Because MacArthur’s commitment to Quezon was a 16 million-peso annual cost, The plan was redrawn to a reduction to 930 officers and 7,000 men, a force barely larger than the current Philippine Constabulary force. The resulting shortage of officers and men was to be recovered by an annual increase in recruitment. The standard training time was cut short; the acquisition of equipment and the full achievement of preparedness was spread out over 20 years rather than the 10 year period of the Commonwealth. The rest of the comprehensive details are presented here and virtually lifted from Prof Jose’s enumeration
- The formation of the more expensive units, the coastal artillery for example, will be deferred. Expenses for the first few years would center on building barracks and and other camp buildings, but after this construction, the resulting savings could be allotted to weapons and equipment procurement, all spread out over the 10-year preindependence period. In order to save further the army’s reserve transportation was not to be organic: buses, cars and trucks for the reserve divisions were to be expropriated from civilian concerns upon threat of war.
- Basically the plan was to have a small regular force, based on the PC, and a large reserve force. The regular force would provide overall leadership, instructors for reservists’ training , and overhead for the army, as well as maintain peace and order within the country.
- The trainees themselves would be 20-year-old males, who would register for duty. From the registrants a total of 40,000 would be picked for training for the next year, in two groups of 20,000 men each. In the camps they will learn the basics of military discipline and training and upon completion of the training would pass into the reserve force, liable for call any time that the country needed them. For ten years after that, the reservists would have ten days of refresfer training annually; after that they pass into second reserve, where the period of refresher training was shorter.
- The plan called for gradual buildup. The first group will consist of 3,000 trainees in order to gain experience in the process and to save money. As officers and trainees become familiar with training procedures and as weapons were procured, more barracks would be built and the trainee classes would be expanded to full quota.
- Every populated island was to be defended. This would be facilitated by building training camps throughout the country, with the trainees observing their obligations near their homes. Apart from providing bodies of trained men throughout the archipelago, this system would also develop a sense of defending home and family.
- Registration and training would be obligatory and part of the twenty year old’s duty to the state. The cut in cost of salary will be redirected to construction and the acquisition of weapons and equipment.
- To avoid long tours of duty and cut costs further, preliminary military training will take place in schools. The basics of sanitation, hygiene, citizenship, military discipline will be taught in primary and secondary schools. The PC could not meet the needed number for officers. Thus these were taken from the Philippine Scouts and the regular US Army. The Philippine Constabulary Academy was now being modeled after West Point and was to become the Philippine Military Academy. Other short term schools for reserve officers were opened. Special training sessions of two months duration for officers to teach pre-military training were created.
Various service units were formed for both regular and reserve branches of the military. This included combat arms for the infantry, field artillery, coast artillery and air corps. Support services included the quartermaster, signal and engineering corps, medical services, other branches for management and maintenance. A new branch of service would be formed, the Offshore Patrol (OSP) the marine arm of the Plan.
On weapons, the cheapest and most effective would be the rule of the day since this was the expensive item of the budget. Obsolescence of weapons must be alerted to constantly.
Tactically the defense plan reflected the backgrounds of the authors, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Ord. The reserves would be organized into divisions, half the size of US regular division for mobility and cost. Divisions will not be saddled by complex supply organization nor expensive organic transportation or equipment.
Quick mobilization, expropriation or confiscation of equipment and transportation would allow the reserve divisions to be formed almost anywhere in the country.
The Philippines would be divided into military districts, based on population rather than area. Within each district, would be a set number of camps and one mobilization center where supplies and equipment would be stocked. Each district would be administratively responsible for the training and organization, as well as mobilization, when necessary, of the reserve divisions assigned to it. Through this method a force that would assure maximum protection in every Island, District and Province of the Philippines could be organized.
The key tactical concept of the plan was the denial of any part of the Philippines to any potential foreign intruder. A cordon system of defense was practically forced on the Philippines because of the impracticability of developing naval forces to preserve interisland communication against any attack by water. This defense plan was to ensure a defense of each portion of Philippine territory that the cost of subjugation would exceed potential for rewards to any aggressor. This meant defense at the beaches by infantry, supported by machine guns and artillery. The stress on smaller units and mobility would allow for divisions to be moved quickly in support of divisions under attack.
To provide for early warning and to attempt to break up landing forces would be the job of the air corps and offshore patrol. These were the idealistic part of the plan because the planners lacked air and naval backgrounds. Contact and control by air by defenders will be sufficient to keep hostile naval forces outside territorial waters. 150 fast bombers were proposed to accomplish this. 50 small but fast Offshore patrol boats would do the job of deterring enemy navy vessels from territorial waters.
This was the plan on paper of what a relatively poor nation can expect to accomplish and at the minimum gives to itself territorial integrity and the hope that it gains allies in the case of prolonged siege.
Note: This is a summary of the National Defense Plan as drawn up by Major Dwight Eisenhower, US Army and Major James Ord, US Army. Submitted to General Douglas MacArthur on the eve of the Philippine Commonwealth
Professor Jose covers extensively the rest of the history of the Philippine Commonwealth Army under the headings below
- Build-up Chronology: 1934, The National Defense Act; 1935 Objections and Startup; 1936; 1937; 1938; 1939; 1940
- From concept (the National Defense Plan) to fruition (the standing forces); The first & second year to implement the National Defense Act; Objections; Quezon waffles; The final forces
- The Beginning of the End or Countdown to baptism of fire: Dec 8, 1941, Contact: Into the maw of destruction; breakdown and escape
Thank you to Manong Sonny for this article.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 5. March 2016