Green Risings in the Philippines
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, July-August
"Plans for a "new attack" on the ancient problem of
tenancy in the Philippines were described by President Manuel Quezon
of the Philippine Commonwealth on his recent extended visit to the
United States. As an earnest of his intentions, President Quezon
announced the engagement, as an adviser on the land problem, of Dr.
Frederic C. Howe, special adviser to the United States Secretary of
Agriculture and former Consumer's Counsel of the Agricultural
Dr. Howe is a follower of Henry George, and as a member of the "socialist"
as distinguished from the "individualist" wing of the
Georgeist movement has been one of the foremost exponents of the
American social philosopher's doctrines. Throughout his career, and
particularly as Commissioner of Immigration and as Consumers' Counsel,
he has given evidence of his integrity, sacrificing position and power
rather than sacrifice principle. Of the soundness and the thoroughness
of the advice which he will give to the infant Commonwealth there can
be no doubt. What prospect is there that this advice will be accepted?
The problem of tenancy is, of course, merely the most spectacular
aspect of the land question in the Philippines. But it is a situation
which is fast coming to a head, according to the objective Associated
Press correspondent in Manila. Land riots are becoming more numerous,
and several killings have occurred in them. Despite the spotty
character of the disorders, they have been serious, and the wonder is
only that violence has not been more general. For this, as always, the
soldiery is entitled to the credit, although the part it plays can
hardly be called creditable. In many cases tenants have been
restrained by soldiers when they attempted to mob land owners or
lessors who have been particularly flagrant in "squeezing"
them out of their share of the crops. Tenants have been ousted from
their lands as the sugar market dwindled; the constabulary, in
repeated clashes, noted for the brutality displayed, has seen to it
that they did not get back.
The demands of the tenants, in virtually all cases, is meagre to the
point of futility. There is general awareness that the background of
the whole trouble is the lack of social justice. But they protest most
over the devices that have been erected to obscure the fundamental in-
justice of the landlord-tenant relation. On most large plantations,
they point out, land owners put up post exchanges or canteens where
tenants say they are required to buy necessary articles on credit at
high prices. They complain most loudly also that they are held down by
loans of money or goods at usurious rates of interest.
It is grievances like these on which their spokesmen focus attention.
The pity of it is that these grievances can readily be remedied
without fundamental improvement in the position of the tenants.
But Filipino leaders do not delude themselves that superficial
remedial measures can halt the progress of the social revolution which
is imminent in the islands. President Quezon said last year,
truthfully, that the widespread unrest in the islands is against the
whole social order. Spearhead of the unrest is the seven-year- old
Sakdalista movement, whose leader, Benigno Ramos, is self-exiled in
Japan. Much is made, and probably not without justice, of his present
position. He enjoys the protection and some say the financial support
of the majority political party in Japan, a nation whose concern for
the plight of the peasants has not been noteworthy at home, where the
growth of the land monopoly illustrates again the telescoping of
social development, and whose interest in imperial expansion has
aroused the appetite of its privileged classes for the soon-to-be in-
dependent Philippines. On its part, in the usual fashion of States on
trial, the Philippine Commonwealth has attempted to bring him back to
be tried on charges that he took part in various revolts, bombings and
fires, a list of which is a tribute to his extraordinary industry or
the prosecutor's flair for imaginative detail.
The nationalistic programme of the Sakdalista party offers much to
the indoctrinated prejudices of the under- privileged Filipinos,
little to the intellect of the few who understand the fundamental
necessities of sound social policy. It advocates such a hodge-podge as
immediate independence, smaller payments to landowners by tenants,
abolition of the poll tax imposed on every man from 18 to 60 years
old, downward revision of land taxes, reduction of State salaries and
the teaching of native dialects in the schools. The left wing of the
extremists is occupied by the Communist party, another growing group.
It was said to have had an attendance of 1,000 wildly- enthusiastic
peasant delegates at its Manila convention in 1936.
What is the nature of the social disease of which this bitter unrest
and desperate extremism is symptomatic? The story is an old one.
Philippine land trouble dates back before the American occupation in
1898, and was one of the island's heritages from western civilization.
When Governor General Taft came to the islands he found some 60,000
peasants on the verge of revolt against the friars, who had control of
more than 400,000 acres of the most desirable farm land. Similar, if
lesser, concentrations of ownership were held by the classes which
ruled with the aid of the church.
The problem was one of the first tackled by the United States
authorities, in characteristically inept manner. The government bought
the land for re-sale to the tenants. The lands were sold on what was
said to be an easy payment plan. How successful the programme was is
shown by the fact that the problem once again has been dumped into the
lap of the government.
Part of the lands have never been sold. Some of the lands have been
re-acquired by the government, the former tenants to whom they were
sold either cancelling the sales contracts or forfeiting their
holdings because of non-payment of installments and interest.
Apparently the price the friars received has left them better off than
if they still held title to the lands.
Faced in infancy with the problem of regulating the administration
and disposition of the former church holdings, the Commonwealth
government is about to repeat the mistake of the older republic to the
east. The lands undisposed of as of Sept. 15, 1937, are to be
subdivided and sold under the terms of a new law. The price of the
subdivisions is to be the same as the original price fixed when the
government first offered the lands to the tenants by act of the old
legislature. It may be paid in ten equal installments at an interest
rate of 4 per cent. Since this method of disposition has already
proved a failure in practice, the most that can be said for it is that
it is likely to spare the Philippines of the more serious curse, the
creation by land settlement of a class of peasant- owners who would
serve as a bulwark for the prevailing system of monopoly capitalism.
Other aspects of the land question further menace the progress of the
Philippine economy. Attention has been directed to the heavy taxes
imposed in the Philippines by the many new tax laws which have been
enacted, designed to give the government another 10,000,000 pesos a
year. In addition, independence, which was helped through the United
States Congress by the desire of American sugar producers to be rid of
Philippine competition, has raised equally serious problems. Under the
terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, duties must be paid on all
Philippine exports to the United States after certain quotas are
filled. After 1949, export taxes are to be collected on all duty-free
shipments, the amount of the tax increasing each year until the date
It must be remembered that one of the reasons for American "prosperity"
is the relative freedom of trade existing in great part between all
sections of the vast American empire. The Philippines have benefited
by commercial relations with the rest of the United States a benefit
that was mutual and consequently its economy has developed, especially
in recent years when insurmountable barriers to foreign trade have
been erected by United States administrations, to a condition of
integration with the North American economy.
Manila business men calculate that under Congress's plan the islands
are doomed to lose their American markets for sugar, cigars, cocoanut
oil and cordage. However, the islands hope to mitigate this loss by
threat of reprisal. Vast deposits of gold and chromium have been
discovered in the Philippines in the last few years. By levying export
taxes on these commodities, the islands could restrict their flow to
the United States, which has need of the chromium, at least, and some
day may have greater need for the gold. Trade concessions, at best a
paltry crumb, will be asked in return for an agreement not to do this.
An American commission of experts will report in the Fall on how large
a crumb can be dropped from the table without threatening the paunches
of the pampered parasitic home industries.
All in all, this brief review of the economic situation of the
islands discloses vast social forces acting as drives for radical
reform. But the socio-political situation discloses also that the
land-hungry landless of the islands are still burdened with the
ignorance which fetters the land- less almost everywhere. It would be
Utopian to expect that fundamental social reconstruction, the dire
necessity of the situation, will come in the form of concessions
obtained by intelligently-directed mass pressure from the privileged
If social reform is to be undertaken, it must come, apparently, in
the form of concessions wrung from the privileged classes by the more
far-sighted members of those classes, as the result of pressure from
the blind social forces that poverty, unrest, extremism and general
depression represent. But of this the promise is dubious. President
Quezon, who might be expected to lead such an effort, is both in hope
and despair of reform from this quarter.
In the face of the unrest, President Quezon has assumed the role of a
virtual dictator. In his presentation of his defense plans for the
islands before the Foreign Policy Association in April, Mr. Quezon
delivered himself of some contemptuous remarks on the ideal of liberty
that is traditional in the United States. Holding it in error, he saw
liberty as the duty of the citizen to the State, not as constituting
freedom of the individual. Having won a constitution which gives the
Chief Executive authority to set aside disciplinary courts and bills
of rights in "emergencies," he frankly avowed his
determination to use the power.
Mr. Quezon now has the backing of a strong army, thanks to the aid of
an act of Congress which permitted United States Army officers to be
sent to the islands to create it. These officers were headed by Major
General Douglas MacArthur, former chief of staff, who gave ample
evidence of his courage and stamina when, under a gas barrage that
became a stench in the nostrils of the nation, he drove the
impoverished veterans of the peaceable Bonus Army from Washington
under the Hoover regime.
The Philippine president, however, wishes to be pictured as a
benevolent dictator, and talks of beating "the radicals at their
own game." In asking for full freedom for the islands quickly on
his visit in Washington in March, he disclosed he was planning for
them "a programme of wide scope for industrial and agricultural
socialization." The government, he said, intends to develop water
power, to operate bus lines, to build and operate rail systems, to buy
and exploit mines including coal, chromite, and other minerals, though
excepting gold, at least at present and to establish a steamship
But the socialization, apparently, is not to be the socialization of
privilege, which would get at the root of the islands' troubles. It is
to be the socialization of the losses of the privileged. This was
indicated when he described how the agricultural socialization was
going to work. This, he said, was illustrated by the Commonwealth's
experiments in rice control. The newly-created National Rice
Corporation is stabilizing prices for "poverty- stricken farmers"
by buying heavily during the harvest and holding its stocks for
disposal as market conditions dictate.
Similar "radical" experiments in "socialization"
have been carried on in the United States under the regimes of
arch-conservative presidents, elected to maintain and entrench the
status quo. The real poverty-stricken farmers, the peasants, watching
the product of their labor drained away as the kiting of prices boosts
the rent they must pay and the living costs they must meet, will have
the meagre consolation of knowing that prices "stabilized"
in a market with surpluses overhanging it will dislocate other markets
and then will toboggan as surely in the Philippines as they have in
the United States and in Europe.
Schemes for the socialization of losses under monopolistic
competition have proved to be the most dangerous of all crisis
policies; they augment the destruction wrought by the crisis they are
intended to prevent. If Mr. Quezon accepts no better advice, the day
undoubtedly will dawn when he will be thankful for the support of a
strong army, a ruthless constabulary and a centralized State
apparatus, and when he will point, as evidence of benevolence, to
claims that the government's trains and busses now are running on
But it is far too early to predict this outcome for the Philippines.
President Quezon, after telling of his forthcoming "new attack"
on tenancy, spent a month in Denmark and Ireland. He said he had
studied Mexico's land difficulties on a trip there in April, and
expected that some of the methods employed in Denmark and Ireland for
the fight of tenancy might be capable of being transplanted to the
islands. Certainly, any competent study of land reform in Denmark,
Ireland and Mexico should disclose to the thorough observer what one
should do and what he should not do.
Dr. Howe said Mr. Quezon also was interested in the method in the
Farm Tenancy Bill, now awaiting a doubtful fate in Congress. Secretary
Wallace's special adviser has been credited with helping draft that
measure. As it stands,. it amounts to an effort to reduce the friction
between landlord .and tenant without abolishing the relation. But
powerful quarters in Washington sought vainly to put teeth into the
measure so that it would be a first step toward abolishing tenancy. In
the compromise that resulted enough was saved of the programme so that
the measure remains one that would prepare the way for thorough land
President Quezon is facing a history-making situation. It is one that
will leave him famous or notorious.