Speech of President Quezon on Civil Liberties, December 9, 1939






[Delivered on the occasion of the interuniversity oratorical contest held
under the auspices of the Civil Liberties Union at the Ateneo
auditorium, Manila, on December 9, 1939.]

Mr. Chairman, eloquent orators, ladies and gentlemen:

I am terribly disappointed tonight. Several months ago the President of the Civil Liberties Union paid me a call and asked me to be the guest of honor at an interuniversity oratorical contest which that association was sponsoring. I declined the honor, but told him nevertheless that I might still change my mind and take advantage of the privilege of the invitation. Not so very long ago, news reached me regarding this oratorical contest. I was informed that every oration would be a devastating criticism of my administration. So I sent for Mr. Tañada, the President of the League, and after reminding him of his invitation, told him that it would please me to address you tonight. I am still waiting for that devastating criticism, hence my disappointment. [Laughter.]

I am happy, however, to have had the opportunity of listening to these magnificent orations. I mean it. And I am even feeling proud because some of the best speeches tonight, I dare say, are the fruits of my own labor. I have been, long before I was elected President of the Commonwealth, listening to speeches of university students in oratorical contests. But this is the first time that I have listened to a speech advocating the rights of the down trodden—the tao.

I repeat that it is my work. It is the fruit of my daily concern for the peasant, the kasama, and the laborer. The speeches tonight have, likewise, given me hope that if these young men, among whom are sons of well-to-do Filipinos, stand here today and advocate the recognition of the rights of the poor, then my fight has been won even if only for the time being. But the present condition of the kasama is, as yet, not what I have been praying and working for.

I have listened to a speech warning our people against independence, on the ground that every liberty you now enjoy may be lost, while under the American flag you are not denied any individual liberty. No one has outdone me in giving due credit to the Government and people of the United States for what they have done in the Philippines. But I cannot permit any one to say in my presence that our people have enjoyed greater freedom under the American administration, or that our people will not enjoy their freedom under an independent Philippines, as much as they have enjoyed it under the American flag.

It is true, and I am proud of it, that I once said, “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.” I want to tell you that I have, in my life, made no other remark which went around the world but that. There had been no paper in the United States, including a village paper, which did not print that statement, and I also had seen it printed in many newspapers in Europe. I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by any foreigner. I said that once; I say it again, and I will always say it as long as I live. [Applause.]

But that is not an admission that a government run by Filipinos will be a government run like hell. [Laughter.] Much less can it be an admission that a government run by Americans or by the people of any other foreign country, for that matter, can ever be a government run like heaven. [Laughter.]

We have had four years of our government—the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines—a government run by Filipinos, and I defy anybody, American, foreigner or Filipino, to tell me that ours today is a government run like hell. I should say that this is the best government we have ever had in the Philippines, and I will now enumerate the facts to prove this to you.

We have been under American administration. I will not speak now of the Spanish regime because that already belongs to history. We have been, I repeat, under American administration for over 40 years. But when did the common tao receive the protection of the Government if not only upon the establishment of the Commonwealth? You heard American governors-general charge the cacique of abusing his power, but they were merely denouncing the political bosses, not the economic bosses whom they never went after. When did Juan de la Cruz ever have any chance at social justice it not only upon the establishment of the Commonwealth? Under the American rule, a law in this country authorized the imprisonment of the kasama who left his landlord while still peculiarly obligated to the latter. But it was Manuel Quezon, let me tell you, who did away with that law.

Is that freedom? Would that be freedom—allowing a poor tao who owes his landlord to be sent to jail—which you so proudly claim the Filipino enjoyed under the former regime? The orators spoke of the provision in our Con situation which permits the President to suspend the right of habeas corpus under certain circumstances, such as when rebellion, insurrection or imminent danger exists. From where did the Filipino makers of the Constitution copy that provision? From the Act of Congress itself. That was a power given to the American governors-general, and nobody here tonight had protested against the exercise of that power while it was in their hands.

Will you, I ask, have less faith in your own President, the man chosen by your own people, a man of your own flesh and blood? Will you have less faith in him than in a foreign governor-general? [Applause.] When was the right of habeas corpus denied in the Philippines, and by whom? II was denied during the first years of the American occupation, if you could still remember the concentration camps in Batangas. Did the Government of the Philippines, while it was purely in American hands, ever consider the Filipino and his existence as its main concern ? When did you have a bank organized to promote Filipino commercial interests? When did you have a bank, the Philippine National Bank, organized to help Filipino farmers, Filipino industrialists? It was established only when the Philippines had the Senate, when we had Harrison, who, as our American governor-general then, permitted the Filipinos to govern this country. And it was because Governor-General Wood tried to undo what that former American governor-general had done that I said: “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.”

I have no objection to the realistic or idealistic reexamina tion of the Philippine political question if the reexamina tion is based upon the fear that we may not be economically self-sufficient or that we may not be sufficiently strong to defend ourselves against foreign aggression. But when a reexamination is premised upon the assumption that we will not know how to establish or maintain a democracy in the Philippines; when the reexamination is predicated upon the belief, theory or assumption that we will be more free under Americans than we will ever be under Filipinos, then I will say that it is almost committing treason. [Applause.]

I never expected to hear such an assertion from the lips of any young Filipino. I had expected to hear it from their fathers, from those who have known the Spanish regime in the Philippines and found in the establishment of American sovereignty in this country an agreeable contrast. Yes, I heard them advocating the continuation of American sovereignty in the Philippines upon the theory that America gave us freedom and would give us more freedom than we could give ourselves. At that time those who had so believed and spoken had not had occasion to see with their with their own eyes what the Filipinos could do if they were given the chance to govern themselves. But after four years of the Commonwealth Government, after seeing what we have accomplished, what we are doing or still trying to do for our people so as to make them more free and happy, for any young man here to say that he would rather see Americans continue in the Philippines. I should reply, “Make yourself an American citizen.” [Laughter.]

Perhaps you will say, “Well, we have been listening here tonight to speeches which charged the administration and the Government with having attempted or having actually curtailed the right of free speech or something.” But let me ask you: how many persons are in jail, if there are any, because they have not been permitted to talk? [Laughter.]

Miss Carmen Planas, permit me to retrospect, knew that she had the right to criticize anything. But when she made charges and not criticisms, which are two different things, she soon learned that when making charges, she must have the evidence to prove them. Miss Planas charged the Government and the President, by inference, if not by name, with having violated every law of the land in order to insure the election of the candidates of the Nacionalista Party. Well, that was not a criticism. [Laughter.] It was a charge, and all I wanted was to have her present her charges and prove them. But, instead of proving her charges, she and her lawyer resorted to the use of that well known legal procedure—postponement—and then kept on postponing the case indefinitely. [Laughter.] They never faced the situation squarely.

I am not averse to criticisms. I am here. I have come tonight, to hear criticisms. I enjoy hearing them, as a matter of fact. And I will reveal to you that I had originally refused to accept the invitation of the Civil Liberties Union to be their guest of honor, because in the different banquets which I had attended I heard only speeches praising me, and I have grown tired of hearing them. [Laughter.] That is why I am here.

Vice-President Osmeña should have been the guest of honor tonight. But I chose, for his own benefit, to take his place and save him from embarrassment. I knew that there would be discussions about our government. The Vice-President, you know, is a candidate [long applause] and I am sure the occasion would have been embarrassing for him, had he been here and heard this evening’s speeches. He, most probably, would not know what to do. Perhaps he would have been afraid to speak, because I have helped these fellows to criticize his administration. He would have had a nightmare. [Laughter.] So, just to save him from embarrassment, I came to take his place.

I want to tell you that the speeches of these young people have delighted me, nay, surprised me. How many speeches are delivered in defense of law and order and good government? I had never thought that these young men would pick such subjects as they have chosen to speak on. I am referring to the orators who did not say anything against the administration, because at their age one’s natural inclination is to criticize so as to show how brave he is. [Laughter.] Instead of critical speeches, however, I heard tonight such well-thought-out and well-balanced speeches as I had never heard before. I will not say what I think of the speeches, because I am not a member of the Board of Judges. But I will say that each one of them is good, including the speech of my friend, Mr. Albert. [Laughter.] Now, I will add just one more word.

When I offered myself to be the guest of honor tonight, I did not want it to be without any expense on my part. I was ready to pay for it. I told them that I would be glad to offer a prize for one of the winners. The President of the League consulted his colleagues and, after a few days, called on me with a rather tragic face. [Laughter.] Not knowing how to begin, he nevertheless went on to say that the League did not want to accept my offer. I am, to tell you frankly, rather an analytical man. I like to study people, their reactions, the reasons for their action or re action. And so I didn’t say anything then. I merely said, “It’s all right. I will tell you why later.” And then he left, leaving me wondering why they did not accept my offer. If were inclined to think ill of my fellow men, I would perhaps say. The members of this Union wanted to prove that they have civic courage.” [Laughter.] They had yielded to my request to be their guest of honor, but they also wanted to prove that they could say “no” to me. [Laughter.] Now those young fellows would go to Tom’s Dixie afterwards and whisper. “We showed the President that we don’t mind him.” [Laughter.] As I have said. I never think ill of my fellow men. I am a good Christian and, therefore. I concluded that they declined to receive my offer because of that biblical saying, “It is better to give than to receive”. [Long applause]

Source: Presidential Museum and Library