Gareth Jones

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The Coming Plebiscite



Fear of Economic Ruin 

By Gareth Jones
Manila, Philippines, March/April 1935 

When on May 14, Filipinos go to the polls to record their vote for independence; they will be taking an action, which will have a profound influence upon the Far East.  In voting for the Philippines Commonwealth, which in ten years automatically becomes the Philippines Republic, they are bringing into being a new nation in one of the world’s strategically most important points, lying to the south of China, between the Asiatic mainland and the wealthy and densely populated Dutch East Indies, and on the path to New Guinea and Australia 

Nothing illustrates so clearly the United States’ withdrawal from the Far East and her trend towards isolation and self-sufficiency as her voluntary abandonment of these islands, with 14,000,000 inhabitants and with vast supplies of raw materials, including the richest source of iron ore in the East.  But although this abandonment of control over an Asiatic people may appear a gesture of noble unselfishness it has really been the result of the most unscrupulous and cynical lobbying of a group of American sugar and farming interests who fear the competition of Philippine products, and it is accompanied by trade restrictions which bring dread of the future to all in Manila who have the slightest knowledge of commerce.


A visitor arriving on the day when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Constitution of the Philippines and by a stroke of the pen, brought the yearned for freedom to the Filipino people would expect to find signs of rejoicing throughout the islands.  Instead of gratification, however, there was expressed in private conversations even with extreme nationalists a gloom, which contrasted violently with the joy with which most peoples in history have greeted the culmination of battles for independence. 

The Filipinos’ fear of the independence for which they have long cried arises out of their expectations oh troubles in foreign affairs, in commerce, in the Church, and in politics.  

In foreign affairs Filipinos, Europeans, and Americans in Manila fear that if the United States leaves the islands to complete independence in 1945-6 Japan will be unrivalled in her supremacy over the Pacific that she will be able to dominate the Philippines commercially, that she may be tempted to intervene in the internal affairs of the Philippines, and even take military and naval control of the islands.  That this fear has some justification was confirmed to me by a conversation with a Japanese authority who said: “We shall want to penetrate the islands commercially.  There is no need for us to come in any other way as long as the Filipinos are courteous and peaceful.  But if there is chaos in the independent Philippines then it will be the duty of a civilised nation to step in and use force.” 

British and Dutch Anxiety  

The possibility of Japanese control of the Philippines already arouses alarm, among the British and the Dutch in the Pacific.  The British fear that Japanese domination in Manila would endanger the possession of Hong Kong, that the Japanese, gaining naval, air, and military control of strategic points, would be able to bring pressure to bear upon the Chinese to raise high tariffs upon all foreign goods other than Japanese, that the prestige of the white peoples would sink if the biggest white nation, the United States, meekly abandoned territory for an Asiatic Power to step in, that the United States, yielding to Filipino nationalism will have national­istic reverberations in British India and in the Malay States, and that a path of expansion towards the south and especially Australia, will be opened to the Japanese.  The Dutch fear that Japanese control of the Philippines would bring a potential enemy within striking distance of the rich oil areas of Borneo; they remem­ber that Japan lacks oil as well as other raw materials abundant under the Dutch flag, and they silently pray that the banner of the Rising Sun will not replace the Stars and Stripes in the Philippines.  

The Filipinos themselves have little desire to exchange the kindly, almost pampering, rule of the Americans for the possibility of a more military over-lordship of the Japanese.  But the blows which the United States Act granting independence - the Tydings-McDuffie Act - deals to Filipino trade may one day create a pro-Japanese trend among the population. Indeed, at the present moment the fear that Filipino commerce will be strangled by separation from the United States is the main cause of among Filipinos.  Since Free Trade was established between the Philippine Islands and the United States in 1909, the Filipinos have been made almost entirely dependent upon the United States as a market for their goods.   


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