America's interference in the Philippine elections of 1946, the triumph of MacArthur's candidate Roxas over Osmeña

Tuesday July 04, 2017 ()

With the death of President Manuel Quezon in New York in 1944, General Douglas MacArthur found himself saddled with a Commonwealth President he did not want, as his eyes were on Manuel Roxas.

At least for public consumption, during the early months of his re-occupation of the Philippines MacArthur gave the impression that he would have no truck with collaborators, issuing a proclamation demanding the arrest of all "who voluntarily have given aid, comfort or sustenance to the enemy." MacArthur's public position was almost certainly determined by official US policy at this stage: Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had let it be known that the US Army should "shoot or hang any Filipino who had anything to do with the puppet government no matter what reasons they may have had for cooperating."

Manuel Roxas and General Douglas MacArthur
(General Douglas MacArthur (right) greets President Manuel Roxas on his arrival in Manila for the Independence Ceremonies, July 1946)

Then again, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a directive to MacArthur's GHQ, ordering:

"You will remove collaborationists from positions of political and economic influence. Their immediate disposition is a matter for your determination, bearing in mind that the ultimate disposition of all civil collaborators is primarily the responsibility of the civil authorities."

It soon became apparent, however, that MacArthur had no interest in a determined prosecution of the collaborators, many of whom were not only his pre-war friends and business associates but also essential allies in his campaign to ensure that it was Manuel Roxas and not Osmeña who emerged as the first president of an independent Philippines and that the pre-war economic arrangements in the islands were not disturbed.

After Roxas's "liberation" by MacArthur in April 1945, the general entered into a spirited defense of the former, insisting to Osmeña:

"I have known Gen. Roxas for twenty years and I know personally that he is no threat to our military security. Therefore we are not detaining him." Later, he would claim that Roxas had supplied his GHQ with "vital intelligence of the enemy," that he had been "one of the prime factors in the guerrilla movement" and that "it was under my own personal orders that he stayed in the Philippines."

Months later, the Manila Daily News (owned by the Roxas family!) would claim that Roxas "has already been cleared by no less an Army authority than general of the Army Douglas MacArthur ... Gen. Roxas was recognized as the leader of the underground, or guerrillas in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation."

At the same time as Roxas's "liberation," four other members of the puppet government were also captured but these, unlike Roxas, were detained by the Americans. An attempt was made to justify this on the grounds that, unlike them, Roxas held a commission in the US Army; but in truth this also applied to other collaborators who had been interned.

Before the war, Roxas had been the senior partner of the main law firm representing the interests of the Soriano family (Andres Soriano, owner of the San Miguel Brewery, was now a member of MacArthur's staff), another partner being arch-collaborator Benigno Aquino. Roxas had surrendered to the Japanese in Davao in mid-1942. He was released into the custody of Jose P. Laurel, who became president in the Japanese puppet regime in 1943, and placed under surveillance, becoming chair of the Economic Planning Board.

There is some evidence that he continued to maintain links with MacArthur and Quezon, but the claim that Roxas had been a guerrilla leader was simply ridiculous.

In September 1945, the progressive Democratic Alliance would send a cable to Secretary of the Interior Ickes asserting that "Roxas" behavior during Japanese occupation clearly marked him as collaborator. He and other puppets not only gave support to Japanese forces but also organized and pressed puppet constabulary to fight the guerrillas in the name of peace and order."

It was no surprise that MacArthur chose Roxas as his presidential candidate for, more than any other political figure, he was locked into the tight circle of elite businessmen into which MacArthur had inserted himself before the war. In 1937 the US State Department had used Roxas to warn Andres Soriano that his fascist activities (he headed the Manila Falange) were in danger of putting him on the wrong side of the Espionage Act. According to a report to the State Department in 1945, "Roxas is said to be especially popular with officers of the American Army who have financial interests in the Philippines, such as Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney and Colonel Soriano."

During Roxas's election campaign, Joaquin "Mike" Elizalde would spend $200,000 on his behalf and Soriano, reportedly, an even larger amount. However, there is a possibility that a much more formal agreement existed between Roxas and MacArthur.

According to the Constantinos' The Continuing Past, indeed, Roxas confided to Sen. Jose Roy that "he had a secret agreement with the General to run for the presidency."

When it is realized that Roxas had counter-signed the order by which Quezon had enriched MacArthur to the tune of $500,000 in January 1942, one possibility which immediately suggests itself is that this transaction was part of a long-term plan to commit MacArthur to Roxas in the manner which he appeared to understand better than any other: personal gain. Military historian Eric Larrabee hints at this when he asks in relation to the gift: "What was the role of Manuel Roxas, who... later received much-needed support from MacArthur in his campaign to become Quezon's successor?"

In August 1945 MacArthur released practically all the Filipinos still in custody for collaboration — over 5,000 of them. The Congress was thus swollen by the returning collaborators, as were municipal and provincial administrations, leading the US consul general in Manila to predict that "the eventual result of MacArthur's action will be to strengthen Roxas in the coming elections..." and that no action would be taken against the collaborators. He was right: Roxas granted amnesty to all collaborators in 1948.

Douglas MacArthur's eagerness to liberate the islands which had so far been by-passed may be partly explained by the fact that, according to his biographer Dorris Clayton James, "Roxas' faction was exceedingly anxious to have the congressional representatives from the south liberated so that a quorum would not be lacking in the Philippine Senate and House at the June session."

On June 8, 1945, MacArthur paid a personal visit to the penal colony on Palawan to hold discussions with some of his pre-war political contacts who were now held as collaborators. It may be significant that this was one day before Congress was summoned; of the 98 representatives, 70 were present, eleven were dead and 17 were still detained; of the 24 senators, only 13 were present, two were dead, two had still not arrived in Manila and seven were detained.

Despite the fact that Congress was thus short of a quorum, Manuel Roxas, MacArthur's presidential candidate, was elected president of the Senate and chairman of the powerful committee on appointments.

The Philippine Trade Bill would require the Philippines to amend its Constitution to concede equal rights — "parity" — to United States' citizens and corporations with regard to the ownership and exploitation of natural resources and utilities; under the Tydings-McDuffie Act, "parity" had been envisaged only for the Commonwealth period.

This new Act was sponsored by Paul McNutt, the last High Commissioner and the first US Ambassador to the Philippines. According to Senator Millard Tydings in evidence to the US House Ways and Means Committee in March 1946, McNutt was "opposed to Philippine independence, and if you would ask him he would tell you so. The truth of the matter is that most of the people, outside the Filipinos, who favor this bill are fundamentally opposed to Philippine independence... Their whole philosophy is to keep the Philippines economically even though we lose them politically."

When McNutt traveled to Washington in February 1946 in order to lobby for the Bill, he made clear his view that the collaboration issue was for the Filipinos to decide.

In his briefcase at the time, however, was the confidential report by Walter Hutchinson of the Attorney-General's office which recommended that Washington should take action against those high-ranking Filipinos, including Roxas, who had signed the declaration of war against the USA.

According to Hernando Abaya, although the Trade Bill was redrafted four times, this redrafting was directed by McNutt and his supporters.

Like many wealthy Americans with an involvement in policy matters in the Philippines, McNutt was further enriched in the process.

In 1948 he started an insurance company with just P50,000. By 1966 the company reported total assets of P270 million. Together with two sister-companies, it would represent the interests of US businessman C. V. Starr. Clearly, "parity" worked rather well for Paul McNutt.

The Trade Act would be underpinned by the Philippine Rehabilitation Act, under the terms of which $625 million would be paid by the United States in war damages — but no payment of over $500 would be made unless "parity" had been agreed. The provisions of the Act would prove to be a major issue in the elections set for April 1946.

Roxas, as might be expected, favored the Bill, while Sergio Osmeña opposed the "parity" provisions. Roxas therefore led a breakaway from the Nacionalista Party — the Liberal Party.

During the election campaign the Military Police was given a free hand to support Roxas in Central Luzon. In Nueva Ecija, the MP garrisons were strengthened to 2,000 men. Meetings were fired upon and homes searched. The offices of the progressive Democratic Alliance (DA) were raided and equipment smashed. On the eve of the poll, the chairman of the Pampanga DA and his son were both kidnapped and killed.

In the April 1946 elections the DA contested one-fifth of the congressional seats and won 152,361 (six percent) of the votes cast, electing six representatives in Central Luzon and one Nacionalista, giving Osmeña a clear majority in the region.

Nationally, however, Roxas won the day, although he now had a problem: The Bell Trade Act required an amendment to the Philippine Constitution, something which could only be effected by an affirmative vote of three-quarters of the members of both Houses. Thus, to be lawful the amendment should have received the votes of 18 of the 24 senators and 73 of the 98 Representatives.

However, Roxas suspended the successful DA and Nacionalista candidates from Central Luzon on the grounds that their elections had been characterized by the absence of peace and stability.

In the Senate, Roxas allowed senators who had been indicted by the People's Court for collaboration to take their seats, while suspending three opposition senators for alleged electoral irregularities. Although in law only the Electoral Tribunal could deprive the suspended members of their votes, the Liberal Party majority ruled that their votes should not be counted. This meant that the constitutional amendment could now be passed on the affirmative vote of 68 Representatives and 16 Senators — which, to the very vote, it was.

This was US electoral interference at work.

The Filipino flag that revolutionary general Emilio Aguinaldo handed over to Roxas at the "independence" ceremony on July 4, 1946 was the same one that the revolutionary veteran had presented to Jose P. Laurel when the Japanese had granted "independence" in 1943.

Here, in symbolic form, was illustrated the reasoning of the USA in dealing so lightly with the collaborators: Most of those officials who had betrayed their country to the Japanese could be relied upon to betray it all over again to US capital.


  1. US electoral interference in the Philippines, Part 1 and 2, Ken Fuller, Manila Daily Tribune, May 30, 2007 and June 6, 2007
  2. Photo credit: Truman Library Photographs


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