(The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s – continued)

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The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s (2 of 6)

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Rule in the Philippines

The United States was uncomfortable as a colonial power. It began its rule in the Philippines by appointing Filipinos as officials, and because Americans were seen as conquerors and unpopular, these appointed Filipinos were unpopular. But the US was eager to leave Filipinos to run their own local governments – in a land of many islands and a great variety of people and languages. And with this and the United States helping the Filipinos economically, Filipino hostility toward the US faded. American benevolence in the Philippines alarmed some business concerns in the United States – businesses that wanted little competition from Filipino producers of sugar, tobacco, fats and other products. And unionized labor in the US feared competition and a bidding down of wages from an influx of immigration from the Philippines.

By the time of the administration of Warren Harding (1921-23), the granting of full independence to the Philippines was under discussion in the United States. President Harding sent a commission to the Philippines for a quick study of the issue, and the commission returned with the conclusion that granting independence would be premature, the commission claiming that the United States still had responsibilities there. The report sounded British, and indeed there was among the commissioners – as there had been with President Theodore Roosevelt – an admiration for the British Empire.

Through the 1920s, the United States pursued social and economic advances in the Philippines. Wrote Dean C. Worcester, a former Governor General in the Philippines:

Never before in the history of the world has a powerful nation assumed toward a weaker one quite such an attitude as we have adopted toward the Filipinos. I make this statement without thought of disparaging the admirable work which Great Britain has done in her colonies.

In 1929 Worcester wrote of Americans giving Manila a modern sewer system, supplying city dwellers with "comparatively pure drinking water" and wiping out diseases such as small pox, cholera and bubonic plague. Worcester wrote of skilled medical and surgical services being sent to the Philippines. He wrote about teaching boys and girls "the elements of good sanitation," about overcoming Filipino prejudice against hospitals, about new care for lepers and a more humane care for the insane "who were previously chained to floors or posts." Girls, he wrote, are being taught to cook and to sew, and boys are learning woodworking, ironworking and other useful trades. And he wrote of the US policy of denying liquor to tribal peoples.

Worcester boasted of the US-inspired economic advances in the Philippines, of road building, an improved mail service, more and better wharves and harbors for inter-island and international shipping. He spoke of the need for improvements in the rice industry in the Philippines, for better irrigation and better seed selection. He spoke of lifting the Filipinos out of "primitive production methods" in its sugar industry, without which, he said, the Filipinos will not be able to compete successfully in the world's sugar market. And he criticized US sugar interests for conspiring to prevent advances in the Filipino sugar industry.

Worcester boasted of the US giving the Philippines "religious liberty, free speech and a free press." He wrote of a determined US effort to break up slavery and peonage, something he claimed the "easy-going Spaniards" had never done. He wrote also of the all-Filipino legislature, which he described as premature but a blessing nevertheless. Worcester favored going slowly toward independence but he saw its eventuality. "Both of our great political parties," he wrote, "are committed to the policy of granting independence when the Filipinos are ready for it."

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.