A brain preserved in Yale | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

A brain preserved in Yale

/ 01:47 AM January 17, 2014

Leonard Wood has gone down in Philippine history in a bad way. From what I remember from history class, he was against: Filipinization of the government, greater autonomy for the Philippines, and Philippine independence. According to my teacher and textbook, there was a “Cabinet crisis” in 1923 when Manuel Luis Quezon led all the Filipino Cabinet secretaries working under Governor-General Wood, including Interior Secretary Jose P. Laurel and Justice Secretary Jose Abad Santos, in resigning from their posts. This must have been very dramatic, indeed, except that their resignation did not lead to paralysis of the government or the removal of the occupant of Malacañang, as we have seen in our recent history when key officials and the military withdrew their support from Presidents Marcos and Estrada. Wood simply appointed the Filipino subsecretaries to the vacant posts in acting capacity and kept the country moving.

Reading the “Reports of the Governor-General of the Philippine Islands” for 1923, 1924, and 1925, I realized how textbook history oversimplified a complex and multilayered story that has resonance in our time. Many of us are not told that Wood (1860-1927) was personal physician to US Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, that he served as chief of staff of the US Army, and that he fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He served as military governor of Cuba and later governor of Moro Province in Southern Philippines in 1903-1906. He is infamous for the Battle of Bud Dajo, which deserves a separate column.


Wood agreed to serve as governor-general of the Philippines only for a year to take up a position as provost of the University of Pennsylvania. But he gave that up and served in Manila from 1921 to 1927. Wood’s brain is preserved in Yale Medical School.

Wood is often unfairly compared with his predecessor, the well-liked and well-remembered Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison, whose name remains on a street that connects the cities of Manila and Pasay. “Harrison” is a name we still see on a shopping mall and jeepney routes in those cities, unlike “Wood,” which is found as a street name only in Baguio and Zamboanga.  In 1925 Wood reported to Washington that the Moros of Lanao and the peoples of the Mountain Province wanted American rule to continue and insisted on the appointment of American governors. This was rejected by the Philippine legislature, which was moving toward complete Filipinization of the government.


In his 1925 report, Wood showed that contrary to what his critics wanted the public to believe, the government then was largely in the hands of Filipinos: “In 1923 the percentage of Americans in the government, including school teachers, was 3.9 percent; in 1924, 3.4 percent; and in 1925, 3.1 percent.” Subtracting teachers from the head count, only 1.5 percent of government positions were held by Americans in 1925. He then gave the following summary:

“The legislature is wholly Filipino. Of the six secretaries who are the heads of the executive departments, through whom the Governor General exercises to a large extent the executive authority vested in him by the Organic Act, five are Filipinos and one American. Of the justices of the Supreme Court, five are American and four Filipinos, the chief justice being a Filipino. The fiscals (prosecuting attorneys) throughout the islands are all Filipinos. Of the 55 judges and auxiliary judges of the first instance, only two are Americans. Of the 893 presidents of municipalities, none are Americans. Of the 48 governors of Provinces, only three are Americans (these are in the Non-Christian provinces). Of the many hundred justices of the peace, all are Filipinos excepting two or three in US Military Reservations. Of the officers of the Philippine Constabulary, the only force of the insular government for the maintenance of law and order, only 3 percent are Americans. Of the 28 Bureau Chiefs, only four are Americans. The personnel in the bureau of civil service, bureau of the treasury and the coast guard service are entirely Filipino. The teachers under the Bureau of Education are more than 98.5 percent Filipino and more than 96 percent of the civil service employees in the Bureau of Health are Filipinos. The insular auditor is an American, the deputy auditor is a Filipino, and the district auditors throughout the islands are Filipinos. The officials of the treasury department are all Filipinos. In other words, outside of school teachers there is only a handful of Americans holding positions in the insular government.”

A look at the figures will show that Wood vetoed 16 bills from the legislature in his first year, compared with Harrison who vetoed only five bills in his entire term from 1913 to 1921. Furthermore, Wood attempted to privatize ownership or management of the government-run businesses in his first year, like the Manila Railroad and Philippine National Bank. Since his reform efforts were naturally thwarted by politics and Filipino politicians with vested interests, maybe we should start looking beyond the racial and nationalist issues in the conflict between Wood and Quezon to revisit a history that can put our present political issues in context and make things easier for change.

If Wood’s preserved brain at Yale Medical School could talk, it could bring life to fossilized textbook history.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, History, leonard wood
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