by Cielo G. Reyno

      Perhaps it was not a mere quirk of fate that his death on 19 October 1961 occurred close to the anniversary of the institution that first catapulted him to national prominence, and with which his name will always be intertwined.  Osmeña, together with the Philippine Assembly, embodied the Filipinos’ relentless struggle for the highest ideal—national independence.

      The struggle went on despite the official end of the Philippine War for independence in 1902 and the passage of the Philippine Organic Act that same year, the latter providing the establishment of the First Philippine Assembly in 1907.  In truth, the Assembly was part of the American campaign to pacify the country.  It was the last effort to finally stamp out whatever remained of the revolutionary aspiration of the Filipino people that, shortly before then, was still being waged by the likes of Macario Sakay, executed a month before the Assembly’s inauguration in October.

      Osmeña’s path to prominence began at age 21, when he was tapped to be emissary for the revolutionary junta of Cebu, witnessing firsthand the destruction of the First Philippine Republic by the American military forces.  At 22 he became publisher and editor of the newspaper El Nuevo Dia (The New Day), later ordered closed by American authorities for reporting the American debacle in Balangiga, Samar in 1901.  Garnering second place in the 1903 bar exams, he was hired by then Cebu Governor Juan Climaco as legal adviser.    At 27, he was elected Cebu’s governor.

      Meanwhile the ground was being paved for the establishment of the Assembly.  Heeding the call for Filipinos to join in the parliamentary struggle, Osmeña ran for a seat in the Assembly as a member of the Nacionalista Party whose platform was, “immediate, absolute, and complete independence”.  In the elections of July 1907, his party won more than 50% of the Assembly’s seats.  On October 16, the Assembly elected Sergio Osmeña as Speaker, the first Filipino to hold such position, subordinate only to the American Governor General.  He became the vanguard of the new generation of Filipino leaders, admired for his integrity and work ethic, setting the highest standards in public service.

      From the outset he made Assembly the new bastion of the nationalist cause.  Knowing that the battle for independence had now shifted from the battlefield to the halls of the Ayuntamiento, he adopted a three-pronged strategy to bring the Filipinos closer to realizing their dream: to make laws that would benefit the people, expand Filipinos’ governing capacity by widening the powers of the Assembly; and develop nationalist leaders.

      In carrying these out, he inevitably brought the Assembly into several run-ins  with the Philippine Commission the upper house. One of these involved the Assembly’s rejection of the Philippine Commission’s choice of the Resident commissioner to the United States, on the ground that being the Commission’s choice he did not represent the Filipinos’ interest.

Another face-off involved Osmeña’s advocacy of an authentic Philippine Constitution that would replace the Organic Law of 1902.  In June 1908, during the closure of the first session of the Assembly, he outlined its modest achievements, which included the expansion of education opportunities for all Filipino children through the passage of the Gabaldon Act; the establishment of an agriculture bank, the establishment of bureaus for forestry and for labor.  Finally he made a formal declaration of that the Filipinos had not abandoned their aspiration for independence and will continue to aspire for independence its realization.  His fellow Assemblymen gave him a resounding cheer.

      Osmeña knew nevertheless that the conflict with the colonial masters was far from over.  In the next years, the conflict intensified with the drafting of what eventually became the Jones Law of 1916.  He helped draft  the law, sending his suggestions through constant communication with then Washington-based Resident Commissioner Manuel L. Quezon who in turn relayed his ideas to American Congressman W. Atkinson Jones, author of the law.  More important, Osmeña fought to keep the preamble with the crucial passage: “It is…the purpose of the United States to withdraw their sovereignty over the Philippine Islands and to recognize their independence as soon as a stable government can be established therein…”

      Though unacknowledged for his role in the drafting of the Jones Law, Osmeña continued his work even after Quezon supplanted him as the Filipinos’ foremost leader in the struggle toward nationhood.  It would take decades and the ravages of a World War before he would finally see his efforts come to fruition in 1946, when the United States finally withdrew its sovereignty over the Philippines and recognized Philippine Independence.