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Why the US gave back our independence

From 1946 to 1961, we observed Independence Day on July 4—July 4 being the anniversary of the day in 1946 when the United States gave back our independence. We actually won our independence from Spain in 1898, but the US occupied the Philippines after winning its war against Spain that year.

More than principle and benevolence, it was actually white racist antagonism toward Filipino farm laborers in California, and the American agricultural entrepreneurs’ fear of the “great menace” that Philippine products posed to them, that played a major role in the “grant” of independence to the Philippines. This is according to the readings and documents in D.B. Schirmer and S.R. Shalom’s 1987 book “The Philippines Reader.”

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The efforts to send home Filipinos in order to prevent the deterioration of the white race in California started in 1930. The Northern Monterey Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions declaring the Filipino population of the district as undesirable for having unhealthy habits, and for being destructive of the wage scale of other nationalities in agriculture and industrial pursuits.

The resolutions charged the Filipinos with a number of offenses. The first was economic disruption. The immigrants increased the labor supply and held wages down.  They also accepted wages lower than the standard rates for Americans. Since they subsisted on fish and rice alone, and since many shared one or two rooms only, their cost of living were very low, making it impracticable for Americans to compete with them.

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They were also charged with being health hazards. They allegedly brought dangerous diseases and lived unhealthily, with 15 or more usually crammed in one or two rooms.

The resolutions concluded with the statement that the United States “should send those unwelcome inhabitants from our shores that the white people who have inherited this country for themselves and their offspring might live.”

White racist antagonism toward dark-skinned Filipinos underlay the call in the 1930s for the grant of independence to the colony. This racist antagonism to Filipinos who had immigrated to California as farm laborers was complemented by the agricultural entrepreneurs’ opposition to the injurious competition of Philippine agricultural products in the US market, particularly the southern states.

While Filipino nationalists clamored and worked hard for independence, the call came mainly from white racists and the American farm owners who saw in the duty-free importation of Philippine agricultural produce a serious threat to their production. Rep. Harold Knutson of Minnesota wrote in 1929: “It is generally agreed that the Philippine Islands today constitute the greatest single menace to our dairy industry because of their huge exports to our country.”

Having failed to secure adequate protection for their products in the form of quotas and duties, the dairy associations, sugar growers, cordage manufacturers and other farmers’ organizations staunchly supported the move to grant independence to the Philippines, to disqualify the country from the American free-trade bloc.

During the depression years of the 1930s, the US agricultural situation became desperate.  Members of the US Congress supported any legislative move that imposed quotas on imports and immigrants from the Philippines.

The Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, which imposed quotas on Philippine products and restricted immigration to 50 Filipinos a year, was repassed by Congress immediately after President Herbert Hoover vetoed it.

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The Act, however, was rejected by the Philippine Legislature for being inconsistent with true independence. The US Congress promptly enacted a new law, the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The Act stipulated that the President of the United States was to surrender all sovereignty and recognize the independence of the Philippines on July 4, 1946.

And so on July 4, 1946, the American flag, which had been flying alongside the Philippine flag, was lowered in recognition of the independence of the Philippines. Still, it was not true independence, as the former colonizer then obtained through the Bell Trade Act many generous concessions from the Philippines.

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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant and management professor. He has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since his college days in the 1950s.

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