Statement: President Quezon on Jewish Settlement in Mindanao, February 15, 1939

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Press Statement of President Manuel L. Quezon: *
On Jewish Settlement in Mindanao

[Released on February 15, 1939]

Sometime ago, the President created a committee composed of Cabinet members to study the question of political refugees seeking admission to the Philippines and to make recommendations. This Committee had Secretary Roxas of Finance as its Chairman, and Secretary Alunan of the Interior, Secretary Santos of Justice, and Secretary Vargas, members. In view of recent publicity given to this matter, the Committee has, by authority of the President, prepared the following statement for publication:

Recent occurrences in Europe have forced upon the world the problem of providing an asylum for political refugees. These refugees have been estimated at over 500.000, mostly Jews. Under the leadership of Great Britain and the United States, an Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees has been organized in London to formulate plans and to raise the necessary funds for the convenient settlement of these refugees in other countries. Yesterday this Committee appropriated $300,000,000 to defray the expenses of transportation of refugees and to provide them with capital to start with in productive enterprises in countries which should express a willingness to accept them.

The interest shown by many governments in the solution of the refugee problem is predicated upon broad humanitarian grounds. These political refugees, regardless of race or religious belief, allege that they have not been free to think their own thoughts, to express their own feelings, or to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. Democratic governments, both in Europe and in the Americas, have assured the Intergovernmental Committee of their unstinted cooperation. The Commonwealth Government, upon invitation of the United States, could not turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of these unfortunate people. The Philippine Commonwealth, founded as it is upon justice and righteousness and the preservation of essential human liberties, could not but view with sympathy the opportunity to do its share in meeting the situation.

In line with these sentiments, His Excellency, the President, with the cooperation of the State Department of the United States, authorized the admission of political refugees on a selective basis. Only those whose professional qualifications, particularly in science, could supply needed services in the Philippines, have been admitted. In his inaugural message to the National Assembly, His Excellency, the President, explained fully his action in this matter. He emphasized the fact that the present immigration laws do not inhibit the immigration of such refugees into the Philippines, irrespective of their number or personal qualifications. With the cooperation of the Department of State, however, the President has succeeded in limiting the number of immigrants only to those who would be of advantage to the Commonwealth.

Sometime ago, representations were made to the Philippine Government by authorized spokesmen of these refugees, proposing the settlement of several thousand refugees and their families in Mindanao or other sparsely populated areas in the Philippines. It was indicated that these refugees would be provided with sufficient funds to establish them in farming communities, and that they would be assisted by competent personnel to plan and direct the development of the land that may be assigned to them. It was also intimated that only experienced farmers would go to this settlement, and that they would immediately take the necessary naturalization papers to become Filipino citizens.

The Philippine Government considered this proposition in connection with the project to settle and develop Mindanao. The Government believed that here was an opportunity to cooperate with an international enterprise inspired by a most laudable purpose, and that it could be accomplished in the interest of a national program, without in any way depriving Filipino citizens of the opportunity of enjoying the benefits of that undertaking.

Moreover, the Philippines could gain positive advantages from the execution of this plan. The proposed settlement would provide Filipino settlers in neighboring areas with a practical example of modern farming methods practised in the most advanced farming sections in Europe. Also, these refugees could develop new crops familiar to them and which might be profitably produced here. These settlements would have the advice of competent technical men, agriculturists, land chemists, irrigation experts, and such other technological assistants as are needed in projects of this nature. As this settlement is to be undertaken chiefly on a cooperative basis, Filipino farmers would see a practical application of the principles of cooperative farming and marketing as well as the working of consumers’ cooperatives.

There is, of course, a limit to the number of settlers that can be admitted under this plan. Realizing this fact the Government has advised the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees that it was favorably inclined to a plan for the settlement of selected refugees in Mindanao or other sparsely populated areas of the Philippines, to be determined by the Philippine Government. The number of such settlers is to be fixed from time to time by our Government, having in view the interests of our national economy and subject to the following conditions:

1. That a responsible committee representing the refugees or acting on their behalf shall submit a satisfactory plan to finance such settlements;

2. That the settlers shall agree to engage in subsistence farming or such other activities as may be compatible with the best interests of all the Philippines ;

3. That they shall take out naturalization as early as possible, thereby expressing their intention to become Filipino citizens;

4. That until they become Filipino citizens they shall reside on the land reserved for them;

5. That the number of refugees to be admitted as settlers shall be fixed from time to time by the Commonwealth Government acting upon the recommendation of the committee in charge of settlement in course of preparation, having in view the committee’s ability to take care of the settlers and the consequences of large-scale settlement upon the national economy of the Philippines; and

6. That the plan contemplated and its execution shall be subject to the immigration laws now in force or which may hereafter be passed by the National Assembly.

It is believed that the conditions prescribed by the Government are sufficient to safeguard the interests of the Philippines. Moreover, it is expressly stipulated that the admission of these refugees should be at all times subject to the provisions of the immigration laws now in force or which may hereafter be enacted by the National Assembly.

There is no plan to settle large numbers of immigrants in Mindanao or any other part of the Philippines. It is the policy of the Commonwealth Government to preserve the natural resources of the nation for the Filipinos and their descendants. The areas that may be allotted to the proposed settlement for political refugees wall be insignificant compared with the vast tracts of vacant lands that now exist.

Footnote: * On February 17, His Excellency, the President, received from the Refugee Economic Corporation of New York, the following cablegram:

“Your noble attitude toward unfortunate refugees publicly announced in London will have great influence throughout the world. We take this opportunity of expressing our deeply felt appreciation of your humane spirit and generous cooperation respectfully.”

Source: Presidential Museum and Library