The Filipinos Our Allies


By H. A. BURGERS, Recent President of the Insular Sugar Refining Corporation of Manila

Delivered before the Commonwealth Club of California, in San Francisco, December 26, 1941, and broadcast over NBC network

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 226-229.

THE swift movement of events since the Japanese attacked our armed forces in the Pacific has enveloped with the horrible cloak of war a part of the globe with which I am more than familiar. Manila was my home for many years and from 1929 to 1939 travels between the Far East and this country were with me matters of annual occurrence. At this moment my children are in the Philippines, my relatives are in the Dutch East Indies and in the Netherlands, and when I see the names of the cities in the newspaper headlines I think of innumerable friends throughout the Orient. It is because of these close associations that I presume to talk to you, knowing that you will understand my feelings.

It is not within the scope of my knowledge or experience to speak to you of the prospects of military operations among the far-flung islands of the Pacific. Loyalty and humility alike demand that we await with serene confidence the outcome of events shaping themselves so far from our mainland shores. I do invite you however to focus your attention on the tremendous geographical dimensions of this ocean of war. The great distances between our Pacific Coast and the scenes of battle are too well illustrated in the daily press to require my comment. Suffice it to remind you that in the Far East itself the distance between the two nearest strategic points held by ourselves and our allies rarely measure less than five-hundred miles. This realization will help you to form a correct estimate of the stupendous task confronting our naval and air forces.

It is in every sense a two-front war, flanked on one side by the arsenal of Japan proper and the strongholds she has established on the coasts of China, French Indo-China and Siam and flanked on the other side by her island viper nests in the broad expanse of the Pacific. The average American is going to stand aghast at the manpower and transport facilities available to the enemy for landing and making invasion attempts. No armadas will sail forth to decide the issues of this war in one great sea-battle, rather must we expect assault upon assault from hidden outposts upon the armed concentrations of ourselves and our allies. Moreover the population of the Philippines will be attacked in their coastal cities at various and widely dispersed points and it is for this reason that my thoughts have dwelt so largely upon the question of Philippine morale. How will the Filipinos take these hammer blows?

On any other occasion in speaking of the Philippines I would give you an idea of their exportable resources and of their importance to our national well-being. But at this moment any delving into statistics becomes futile and any cold-blooded array of figures conflicts with my finer sentiments. So I will turn to the tablet of my memories and tell you of the Filipino people as I have known them these past thirty years,—of Filipino friends and associates in every walk of life and of a few Americans who have cast long shadows on the welfare of the islands and whom it has been my privilege to know. In the year 1909 when I first came to Manila our Congress had granted a fuller measure of free trade between the United States and the Philippines and the first link in the chain of economic solidarity between the two countries had been strongly welded. I found myself among a large group of young Americans. They were well educated, fond of their college sports, flexible of mind as well as of body and ideal material for the job they were to do. Under the direction of their competent bureau chiefs they carried out the detailed ramifications of establishing a civil government for the Philippines along the lines of our conception of democracy. Beyond Manila, scattered widely over the Philippine archipelago were thousands of Americans of the same caliber engaged as school teachers, veterinarians and constabulary officers. Few of these men stayed longer than three or four years. With them the Philippines are only a memoryand yet they are the men who laid the foundation for the unity and understanding which makes it possible for Americans and Filipinos today to fight side by side against our common foe.

These young men—especially those in the provinces, as we generally call all territory outside of the large cities,—shared in the light-heartedness of the Filipino character. They learned to appreciate Philippine hospitality and the genuine; simplicity of family and community life. A charming portrayal of the experiences of one such American has recently appeared in print in the form of a biography written by Marius John, entitled "Philippine Saga". It confirms all I have just said.

The years of World War No. 1 brought no end of prosperity to the islands which was evidenced in the construction of new and better roads, schools and government buildings. Hygiene and sanitation received much attention, good drinking water was made available everywhere, and dreaded diseases among the people as well as among their live stock became things of the past. War demand for sugar made for the establishment of large sugar mills on the islands of Negros and Luzon and many Filipinos who had heretofore lived the lives of agriculturists and country gentlemen were now given their first taste of large-scale manufacturing and of the problems of marketing and finance in a modern age.

The aftermath of the World War brought some sharp reverses in 1921 which gave a jolt to the unbounded optimism which is such a general trait of the Filipino character. But America was headed for a period of unparalleled prosperity and the Islands soon followed in her wake. New industries were developed and were having telling effects upon the general welfare of the masses. Desire for higher education—always an outstanding ambition among the young people—was being satisfied in many public and private colleges, and young men of lowly parentage received opportunities for advancement heretofore undreamed of. Public hospitals to care for the poor and sick and an active Red Cross organization gave signs that prosperity and benevolence were traveling hand in hand.

Following the trend of the time I succeeded during 1928 and 1929 in establishing a sugar refinery on the island of Luzon, and there began for me a ten-year period of close association with Filipinos of all ranks. During this period of my career, our business did not suffer from labor disputes at any time and we never had to go near a court room to obtain satisfaction in money or other business matters. The loyalty of employees, the friendship of Filipino mill owners and sugar planters, the helpful cooperation of Government officials all stand out vividly in my memory and make it possible for me to speak to you as I am speaking here today.

In 1928 the Americans in the government service had mostly been replaced by Filipinos, but the indelible imprint of Americanism had definitely and permanently become a part of the way of life in the islands. Our sense of humor, our love of sports, our ideas of publicity, our slang, all were reflected in Filipino newspapers and magazines printed in English and, unbelievable as it may sound, there had been created in the short period of three decades the third largest English-speaking people in the world. Gone were the days when Filipinos thought of themselves as Visayans, Tagalogs, Ilocanos and other ethnological groups without a common language. Numerous steamship lines linked the islands, good roads linked far distant municipalities and national unification and solidarity had become established facts.

As a natural consequence the campaign for political independence gained momentum. The independence question had two aspects—one sentimental and the other economic. My own understanding of the Filipinos' views on this subject was clarified long before the Independence Act became law in 1934, as a result of a simple incident which I would like to relate. . . . I had gone to visit an elderly Filipino gentleman in his home some forty miles north of Manila. He was the largest planter and the most respected mill owner in his Province. It is said of him that during the Spanish revolution he had accepted for safekeeping the valuables of his neighbors, which were subsequently destroyed, and Don Pepe—as he was affectionately called—had repaid during the years that followed every bit of the loss suffered by his friends on the basis of their own appraisals. During the midday meal at his home we discussed our business and afterwards in a cool corner of the living room our conversation drifted to more intimate subjects and to the question of Philippine independence. He understood that independence meant the possible loss of the American market and would have serious economic consequences to himself and to everyone he knew. But he expressed his feelings in this simple manner: "Every day", he said, "I go to sleep in my own bed, in my own house. Some day, I hope to go to sleep in my own bed, in my own house, in my own country, and under my own flag."

From that moment I stopped questioning the genuine patriotism behind the Independence movement. And in retrospect, the Independence Bill—kicked around as it was before it became law—what a shining document it has turned out to be! It is because of this document that there is a General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines today, that there is a trained conscript army of Filipino soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder with our own forces and there is not a single Filipino who need doubt that he is defending his own liberty, his own Bill of Rights, and his own way of life. Happily during the years of greatest progress in the Islands, the highest representatives of the American government were men who were held in great esteem by the Filipinos. Frequently men like Col. Henry Stimson, our Secretary of War, Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy and Governor Paul V. McNutt grasped the Filipino viewpoint far ahead of the majority of their country men in Manila and were thereby enabled to deal with problems understandingly. General MacArthur has made Manila his home since his appointment shortly after the inauguration of the Commonwealth Government, to train the new Philippine army which was provided for in the Tydings-McDuffy Act. I am sure that he found among the high-ranking Filipino officials and among his Filipino staff officers men who reflected his own unassuming, sterling qualities.

The expansion of the gold mining industry during the last ten years was responsible for lessening to a very large degree the effects of our own depression. Progress and prosperity never stood still and so the year 1938 came and drew to a close.

It was my plan to make a trip around the world before leaving the Philippines for good so I sailed from Manila in time to be in San Francisco for Christmas. 1938 had been a good year. The Islands from north to south, from east to west were preparing for a Christmas much as we do in this country. Church bells would ring out their message of peace. On the Escolta—the principal shopping street in Manila—Americans were busily buying their presents to catch the last Christmas mail for home. Trim-looking khaki-uniformed Filipino policemen had an extra pleasant smile for the many Americans they knew by name. They knew the American community would again express its appreciation for their ability and courtesy by raising a generous Christmas fund for the city's Police Force.

North and south of Manila were the green rice fields,promising a bountiful harvest and the tall smoke stacks of the sugar mills among the waving fields of cane were so many symbols of modern industry hard at work. Among workers and employees there was a happy, expectant, speculative mood concerning their Christmas bonus. In the newly established army camps young men conscripted from every walk of life were for the first time meeting one another in a truly democratic way, and their officers were most enthusiastic over the results.

The Philippines were at peace with the world. Yes, in Italy and in Germany ships were being built to augment the Philippine merchant fleet.

And over this happy land flew a dual flag,—the Stars and Stripes above and the flag of the Commonwealth beneath. Uncle Sam was the strong protector. The island fortress of Corregidor guarding Manila Bay was impregnable. Childlike trust in our strength and invulnerability was everywhere openly acknowledged. Who, but Uncle Sam, could build Clipper ships that spanned the wide Pacific in five short days? And who, but Uncle Sam, owned the islets of Midway, Wake and Guam which made the Clipper flights possible?

Few of us paid much attention to the rumblings of war across the China sea. Yet there had been poignant reminders of what was happening there. During the middle of the year hundreds of Americans and British women and children had been hastily evacuated from Hong Kong and Shanghai to escape threatened assaults by the Japanese. They arrived in Manila in badly overcrowded steamers. But they did not stay long; eight or ten weeks later the "all clear" signal had sent them back to their homes. The Chinese, of which there are some fifty thousand scattered as merchants and traders throughout the archipelago, did not say much about the rape of their countrymen by the Japanese, in deference to Uncle Sam who didn't say much either. But they were constantly collecting funds for their suffering fellowmen in Canton and Amoy where most of the Chinese in the Philippines originate. To those of us who traveled Japanese aggression was plainly visible all along the accustomed steamer routes. On the border of China proper and Kowloon, a British War Relief Committee was giving food and shelter to five thousand Chinese women and children driven from their nearby defenseless homes by Japanese bombs. They were housed in sheds made of bamboo and straw mats, each having a ground floor and upper level with hardly four feet headroom. They were huddled together more tightly than sheep in a freight car. And hundreds were waiting to enter along the outside fence, weary and in rags.

In Hong Kong the manager of one of the leading banks had told me that beyond any doubt the Japanese planned to conquer all of the Orient. In Shanghai as I was driven from the boat-landing to the Hotel along the only remaining street in the Chinese industrial city of Chapei, the ruins of a once prosperous city looked ghastly in the twilight. Japanese armed soldiers patrolled the street. A vital unit of Chinese industry had received its deathblow and every available piece of metal had been carried to Japan to be made into more bullets. The rumblings in Europe were also heard in Manila. Before I sailed numbers of the High Commissioner's staff had openly expressed to me anxiety and believed that war in Europe was imminent. Both the German and the Japanese Consuls had shown uncalled for arrogance and had been put in their places by our High Commissioner. In our midst also had arrived numerous German and Austrian Jewish refugees,—formerly prosperous, now destitute. They spoke softly and guardedly of their relatives left behind and did not say much about Nazi brutality. They thought Manila was a paradise.

And bringing these graphic descriptions to a close, I must leave the passing of 1940 and 1941 in the Islands to your own imagination. They concern the awakening of America to the dangers of possible Japanese aggression and our military preparations.

It has been my purpose to portray the Filipinos in their true light, to lead you to think of them as our worthy allies in this stupendous war. I know you will think of them with a sympathy and understanding befitting the great ordeal through which they are passing at this very moment And let us resolve here, right now, that never again shall we think of the Filipinos as "Orphans of the Pacific" or permit "their future history to be written in Japanese" as was prophesied in a book on Philippine affairs recently published. Today the Filipinos by their baptism of "blood, sweat and tears" are earning their place in the ranks of the Christian democracies. Who in America would again wrangle with them over economic advantages and marketing opportunities?

Brave Filipinos! That bravery and calm composure which I have seen manifested when earthquakes shook their cities, or in the plant when dangerous tasks had to be fulfilled, will give them needed courage in this hour of war. The treachery of Japan has shocked their Christian principles as much as it has our own. They will fight to the last ditch rather than suffer defeat by a race of necromancers who consult the spirits of their dead fathers before launching a treacherous and murderous assault.

In my mind's eye I can see Filipino miners so accustomed to the use of dynamite leaving their mines to blow roads and bridges sky high before the advancing enemy. In my mind's eye I can see the Japs driven back by walls of fire blazing from burning cane fields, as the Russians held back the invaders by a wall of fire around Moscow. I can see the Filipinos everywhere loading their fire-arms and sharpening their bolos to destroy Japs in the forests and in the fields. The Japs will have a hard road to travel.

The Philippines "must" live—to make possible the continuance of our own standards of living and our own ideals. Do not be deluded for a moment! Our brave soldiers in the Philippines are fighting "our" battle—with the Filipinos at their side. The Philippines are the front line trenches in this battle for Democracy in the West. The trenches in the rear are right here, where your factories are at work and your children at play. Do not be deluded for one moment to think that we are fighting merely to avenge America for the treachery we suffered on December seventh. Japan made her purpose all too plain when she attacked not only the American flag in the Pacific but when she struck simultaneously it Hong Kong and Singapore. She seeks domination over the vast resources of the entire Orient,—not merely the Philippines or the Dutch East Indies or the Federated Malay States, but the whole vast territory of islands and peninsulas between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. And Japan always knew she could never hold a part without dominating the whole.

Therefore Japanese domination of the Philippines necessarily implies Japanese domination of a much vaster territory of a hundred million people engaged in the production of the enormous quantities of raw material on which our industries depend—rubber, tin, chromium, manganese. Turn these resources and the rich oilfields of Borneo and Sumatra over to them and what may we expect? Or, turn them over to any other military dictatorship and what may we expect? Would these resources be used as they have been, for the manufacture of peaceful articles of commerce? Would Christian ideal of fair play among men remain the basis of world trade? You know the answer as well as I do. Japan would build more guns and with more guns would not be satisfiedto drive our peaceful ships from the waters of the sea, she would plunder us wherever she could and, humiliated to the point of distraction we would be powerless to prevent the influx of her pagan hordes into our country. Tell this to our farmers! They will understand. We could not build a tariff wall to hold back her stream of slave-labor products. Tell this to our workers! They will understand. And ask any American whether he would like to live his life under a hyphenated preconceived notion of a new order outlined

by the axis powers, an order intended only for their own aggrandizement, intended only for the satisfaction of their lust for cruel power; intended only to humiliate all of us by tearing down what we have built.

And in closing let us turn our thoughts once more to the Philippines. Reverses may come, strongholds which stand four-square today may crumble, but the spirit of the freedom-loving Filipino will live on. Without security to their way of life we cannot expect to maintain our own way of life.