Message of President Quezon to the First National Assembly on the Election Law, New Taxation Measures, Religious Instruction, and the Work for the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs, July 25, 1938

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[Delivered at the opening of the fifth special session of the National
Assembly, July 25, 1938]

Gentlemen of the National Assembly:

I have called this Honorable Body into special session so that you may enact a law fixing the date for the election of the members of the National Assembly, their term of office to commence on the 15th of November, 1938, the date when, under the Constitution, the terms of the present members shall expire. In this connection, I desire to invite your attention to the need of amending the Election Law, so as to prohibit and punish certain practices not covered by existing legislation. These practices are well known greatly to increase expenditures of the candidates and tend to vitiate the elections. Determined as we are to establish democracy firmly and permanently in our country, we must exercise the strictest vigilance to maintain the streams of free popular expression unpolluted and undented. Above all we must guard the ballot box against the pernicious influence of money, and guarantee to every citizen that the lack of wealth shall not be a bar to his seeking an opportunity to serve this nation. I trust, therefore, that you will be able to accord to this matter early consideration.

It was my intention, and have so announced, to submit to you at this session certain measures recommended by the Department of Finance relative to taxation. This was deemed necessary, first, because there was urgent need of more funds to provide for the increase this year in the public school enrollment, which could not be met with estimated ordinary revenues; and second, in order that our system of taxation may be more in accord with the policy to which we are committed—a just distribution of the tax burden upon the principle of ability to pay. It now appears that we have collected during the first six months of this year several million pesos more than was estimated in the Budget. It is not necessary, therefore, to enact at this time any tax measure to raise funds to defray the urgent expenses of the Government for the Bureau of Education and other necessary activities. In view of this fact, I have decided not to ask you at this special session to consider tax legislation, leaving the matter for your next regular session.

The imposition of new taxes is always a serious matter, especially if it means a fundamental change in the policies underlying the public revenue system. The adoption of new theories of taxation already accepted in other progressive countries, as well as by competent students of public finance, is not the only question which should merit consideration. Equally important, and in our particular case, probably more so, is the rationalization of these theories in regard to the particular social and economic organization of our people, so that they may not in practice bring greater evils than those they are intended to remedy.

The power to tax can be and should be used both to produce revenues for the Government, and as an instrument to mold and direct the social and economic organization of the country. If, however, this latter function is to be accomplished successfully, with the least possible inconvenience or injury either to individuals or the body politic, this great power should be employed only after careful deliberation. If the proverb that “to go fast one must go slowly is ever true, it is so in the case of social or economic reforms. It is evidently the better part of wisdom for us to take more time—since we can do this without jeopardizing the solvency of the public treasury—in the study of the tax measures that are proposed for enactment, hearing those who wish to be heard, and thoroughly examining every aspect of the questions involved.

Everyone should realize that the people of the Philippines are, absolutely as well as relatively, among the least taxed people in the world. On the other hand, we cannot stagnate; we must make progress; we are far from performing adequately the most elementary duties of government. Hundreds of thousands of children are still being deprived of the opportunity to enter the primary schools, despite the injunction of the Constitution that no child of school age be deprived of this privilege. The health of our people is not being properly protected, and there are many other essential activities which the Government should undertake and which have not so far been done for lack of funds. We must, therefore, insure a larger income from the Government, within the limits, of course, of the economic capacity of the country to provide that income. This means that we must not only revise our system of taxation to conform with the principle of the ability to pay, but also with a view to increasing our revenues.

For the stability of business and in order that those who are engaged in productive enterprise may be in a position to plan their respective industries, bearing in mind their obligations to the Government, together with all other items and factors which determine their costs and risks, it is most desirable that our tax structure possess some degree of permanency. To avoid frequent changes in our tax laws so disturbing to business, we should endeavor to estimate the probable and inevitable increase in the expenditures of the Government during the next ten years, so that revenue laws may be passed adequately to meet such requirements. I, therefore, propose the appointment of a commission which will study our tax system, considering the growing cost of public education with the increase of our population, the greater expenditures in the maintenance of roads which are being built under the four-year program which you have approved in your last session, and other essential activities of the Government which, as the years go by, will necessarily demand a progressively larger outlay. Needless to say, increased revenues may come not only from present sources, or from tapping new ones, but also from the creation of taxable wealth which it is to be hoped will result from the stimulation of our economic development to be planned by the National Economic Council.

There is one other subject which I deem it my duty to lay before you at this time.

By a large majority of the members of this body, a bill on religious instruction in the public schools (Bill No. 3307) was passed in your last regular session. I vetoed this bill and my veto message which is now in your possession states the reasons for my action.

Inasmuch as the National Assembly had already adjourned sine die when I vetoed the religious instruction bill, this body did not have an opportunity to reconsider the measure under the provisions of the Constitution, which would have permitted it to repass the bill, the veto of the President notwithstanding.

It is not my desire, nor do I consider it conducive to the public interest, to deprive you of the opportunity to take up this matter again, if you regard it your duty to do so, despite my veto and my reasons therefor. You can only do this, in my opinion, if I include this subject among the measures which may be taken up at this special session. I am affording to you constitutional authority to take it up, if you so desire. I have considered it advisable to do this,’ because I regard the controversies that have arisen in relation to the bill on religious instruction of such seriousness and importance, that it would be well for the whole nation and all the parties involved that they be settled now and forever. These controversies are pregnant with the seeds of popular dissension and I trust that the National Assembly will cooperate with me in my earnest endeavor toward our country against the bitter strifes that have arisen in other nations due to similar or allied causes. Let us not by our refusal to face these dangers merely postpone the inevitable conflict which, notwithstanding the sound and patriotic purposes of those engaged therein, will inevitably degenerate into a religious struggle with all its accompanying evils.

The religious instruction bill, after a thorough deliberation, was passed by this body by a vote of two-thirds of the members voting. Such a large majority could not but have weight in my mind when I took action on the bill. If I had any doubt as to the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution in this regard, or if the questions involved were merely of policy, I might have been inclined to resolve the doubt in favor of the views of such a large majority of your members. I wish to state to you, however, that after a careful study and consideration I saw that my duty was plain and clear, for the provisions of the Constitution are so explicit that they left me no choice except to disapprove the bill. It must be borne in mind, moreover, that in consonance with most constitutions recognizing religious freedom and the separation of Church and State, our Constitution expressly prohibits the use of any public property, directly or indirectly, in the interest of any religion. Taking into consideration all these provisions of the Constitution, the conclusion is inescapable that the precept relating to religious instruction does not provide a limitation to rights that otherwise exist under the Constitution, but is permissive in nature and establishes a privilege which otherwise would not exist. This fact, by every rule of statutory construction, compels the strictest interpretation of such provisions. This was my conviction when I vetoed the measure, and I have not changed my views on the matter. I am deeply convinced that the bill which you passed was unconstitutional. Any other bill which you may pass amending the present law on religious instruction in the public schools will likewise be unconstitutional. If the National Assembly should again p a s the same or any other similar bill, I shall veto it and send it back to you at this session that you may act on my veto.

It may not be amiss to reiterate that I am one of those who believe that religious instruction is not only good but also necessary for children of school age. As I stated in my veto message, I consider religion as a great power for good. It is stabilizing in its influence. It is good for the individual and good for the body politic. I believe also that the primary duty to teach religion devolves on the parents, if and when those parents profess a religion. Of course, it is a part of the essential functions of a church to teach religion to its faithful. I am prepared to give every facility for the teaching of religion to the youth of our country in accordance with the laws of the land.

But I can go no further. I am persuaded after a careful study, not only by the express provisions of the Constitution regarding this subject, but also by the essential implications from the doctrine of separation of Church and State, that the Government of the Philippines cannot do more in reference to religious instruction in the public schools, than what is now authorized by law. In other words, in order that the Government may allow the teaching of religion during school hours in place of curricular activities, it will be necessary not only to amend existing legislation which has been incorporated by reference into our Constitution, but also to repeal the provision of the Constitution establishing the separation of Church and State.

This was also the view of Taft, who contended that to permit religious instruction in the public schools during the hours when the buildings were required for school purposes would be a violation of the accepted constitution inhibitions intended to safeguard religious liberty and the separation of Church and State. As is well known, it was Taft who, in the face of strong opposition, was responsible for the teaching of religion in the public schools being permitted at all.

Much as I believe that religious instruction is necessary for our youth, and. therefore, much as I sympathize with the idea that somehow the Government should promote the teaching of religion, I must emphatically state that if this can be done only by undermining or in any way violating the doctrine of the separation of Church and State, I am irrevocably opposed to it. This attitude is dictated by what I consider my duty under the Constitution and by my own personal convictions. After all the obligation to teach religion resides in the parents and the Church, and should they comply with this duty, the spiritual need of the people in this respect would be amply provided for. A government that authorizes optional religious instruction in the public schools, as it is done in the Philippines, with the limitations imposed by the Constitution, is already supplementing in no inconsequential way that duty of the parents and of the Church. With the opportunities we offer in the public schools it present, the Government cannot be blamed if religion is not more generally taught.

As you well know, during my last visit to the United States, President Roosevelt, in consultation with me, appointed the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs, composed of Americans and Filipinos, to study and make recommendations as to the future trade relations between the United States and the Philippines, with a view to a gradual, rather than an abrupt, elimination of trade preferences between the two countries. This action was prompted by a considered view of the injurious consequences to American-Philippine commerce, and particularly to the integrity of the Philippine economy, if the trade provisions of the Independence Act were to be left unchanged. It was the consensus of opinion not only of the officials of the Government of the United States in charge of Philippine affairs, but also of the officials of the Philippine Government, that there exist some inequalities in the effects of these provisions which should be removed, and that they should otherwise be modified so as to give to the Philippines a reasonable opportunity to adjust its economy. This opinion was entertained generally by Americans and Filipinos who are cognizant, either from study or actual experience, of the inevitably harmful results to Philippine economic interests of the enforcement of the trade provisions of the Independence Act after 1941 and 1946.

On another occasion, I advised you of the creation of this committee and of the members that constituted it. It is my pleasure now to inform you that the committee has concluded its work after a long, laborious and conscientious study of all phases of the problem. The committee did part of its work in the United States and part in the Philippines. It held hearings in both countries, and after the hearings it met first in Manila and then in Washington, and spent many months before it could come to a unanimous agreement upon its recommendations. Perhaps the recommendations of the report may not meet with the approval of everyone, but I am voicing the sentiments of the Filipino members in the committee when I say that the American members went as far as they honestly felt that they could go in meeting our views, and I hope that the American members will also feel that this had been the attitude of their Filipino colleagues. There was one common purpose and objective shared by all the members of the committee, Americans and Filipinos, and that was to do the best that they thought they could do under the circumstances in the interest equally of America and the Philippines.

I feel certain that you and our people unite with me in expressing to the members of the committee, both Americans and Filipinos, our grateful appreciation of their valuable work done with such high purpose and devotion. The President of the United States needs no praise from us, but I must say that the whole Philippine nation will never forget the kindly interest and concern which President Roosevelt has shown for our future welfare and security. May I also reiterate, that it may be recorded in the annals of our country, that the President, despite the grave problems which from the start have besieged his administration, has shown that his heart has never failed to throb for the liberty and happiness of the Filipino people, and that his active mind has been always seeking the best course leading to the attainment of these noble aims, with the least possible suffering for our people.

I have in my possession an official copy of the report and the recommendations of the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs. I am constrained to withhold transmittal to you now of this report, because I have been asked by the President of the United States to keep it confidential until such time when, in consultation with me, he should decide that it be made public. In due time, this report will be submitted to the National Assembly for your consideration and appropriate action.

I bespeak the cooperation of the National Assembly in the settlement of the problems which I have laid before you and of those which it is my purpose to submit from time to time for your consideration during this special session.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library