THE HISTORY OF THE FIRST PHILIPPINE ASSEMBLY (1907-1916)
It was the inauguration of the First Philippine Assembly in 1907 that paved the way for the country’s independence from American rule as it provided the Filipino legislators to have hands-on in the local political affairs. This event was very significant in the history of Philippine politics while this event also witnessed the first national election in our country through popular votes. The Filipinos’ aspirations for greater political participation and their thirst for self-rule were realized in the establishment of the Philippine legislature. This glorious victory of the Filipinos was accompanied with enormous responsibilities because they have to prove to the U.S Congress, the international community, and to the Filipino nation that the Filipinos could govern themselves properly and dutifully.
In consonance to the benevolent assimilation policy by President McKinley was the American provisional government in the Philippines which were manifested by the establishment of both military government and civil government whose objective was to prepare the Filipino for self-government in the ways of democracy once they proved their worthiness for independence. Thus President McKinley stated: “The Philippines is ours, not to exploit but develop, to civilize, to educate, to train in the science of self-government.”
Creation of the Philippine Assembly
To limit Filipinos’ involvement in the legislative procedure exclusively in the Philippine Commission is against the American policy. This nonetheless led to the campaign for political empowerment of the Filipinos by widening their sphere of influence in the legislation. The creation of Philippine Assembly was credited to William Howard Taft who zealously propagated what he believed would deeply improve the relations between the U.S and the Philippines. He pointed out that America should involve more Filipinos in the task of law if she would like to win the support of the Filipinos. In order to make this possible, he suggested that an assembly be comprise of and elected by Filipinos. Just one month after he arrived in the country, he commissioned Secretary of War Elihu Root to make amendments in the manner by which laws were made for the Philippines. He facilitated the creation of a legislature made up of the Philippine Commission as the upper house and his proposed Filipino assembly as the lower house
The campaign for the formation of Filipino assembly was backed in the United States Congress by Henry Allen Cooper, the chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs. Congressman Cooper campaigned for the creation of a popularly elected Filipino assembly to share legislative power with the Philippine Commission. Thus, he came up with his Philippine Bill but it had three conditions. First, there should be prevalence of general and complete peace in the country and that all those territories not inhabited by Muslims and other non-Christian tribes recognize the authority. Second, the Philippine Commission must conduct a census of the population and have the results be published. Third, peace must be sustained for two years after the census had been taken and its results published. The president of the United States was empowered by the bill to command the Philippine Commission to call for a general election to elect delegates to the popular assembly which would then be known as the Philippine Assembly.
The first law passed by the U.S Congress concerning the government of the Philippines was the Cooper Act, better known as the Philippine Act of 1902. It was passed by Congress on July 1, 1902. The Bill provided that the membership of the assembly should not be less than 50 but not more than 100 to be equitably apportioned by the Philippine Commission among the provinces according to population. More specifically, it provided each province to have at least one delegate. In contrast, province with large populations could have more than one delegate.
Pursuant to the Cooper Act of 1902, the Philippine Commission executed the provisions of the law. The census was completed in 1903 and published on March 27, 1905 and general peace and complete peace was observed in the country. However, Governor-General Luke Wright issued a proclamation that it had to reign for two more years before elections for the Philippine Assembly would be called. The Philippine Commission notified President Roosevelt that there had been two years of general and complete peace in the territories not inhabited by Muslims and other non-Christian tribes from time that the census had been published. President Roosevelt in turn, authorized Governor Wright to make a proclamation calling for such an election.
The national election for the Philippine Assembly was participated by two prominent political parties in the country- the Partido Nacionalista and the Partido Nacional Progresista. The Nacionalista Party was the result of the merging on March 12 1907 of two nationalist groups, namely, the Partido Union Nacionalista whose members included Rafael Palma, Galicano Apacible, Pablo Ocampo, Leon Ma. Guerero, Rafael del Pan, and Felipe Agoncillo, and the Partido Independista Imediatista, whose members included Alberto Barretto, Sergio Osmeña, Manuel L. Quezon, Justo Lukban, Fernando Ma. Guerrero, Jose de la Vina, Francisco Liongson, Macario Adriatico, and Vicente Miranda. The Progresista Party formerly known as Federalista Party was a pro-American party prior to the election in 1907 but shifted its ideology to becoming pro-Filipinos by calling for an independent democratic government, was led by Arsenio Cruz Herrera.
The much awaited first national election for the Philippine Assembly was realized on July 30 1907, the candidates were all clamoring for a total of 80 seats, as set by the Philippine Commission. There were in all 104, 996 registered voters, but the number of those who voted was only 98, 251. Qualified to vote were males, at least 23 years old. The Nacionalista won 31 seats (plus one, Manuel L. Quezon who chose to run as an independent); the Independientes, 20; the Progresistas, 16; Immediatistas, 7; and other minor political parties, 5. None of the political parties had a majority in the assembly.
Prominent personalities in the Revolutionary Government held important posts. Among these were Pedro Paterno, who had been president of the Malolos Congress; Felipe Agoncillo, who had been Aguinaldo’s diplomat in the U.S; and Leon Ma. Guerero, Aguedo Velarde, and Alberto Barretto who had held important posts in the Malolos Government. The elections of 1907 indicated that Filipino electorates had profound confidence for delegates who have background in lawmaking; there were 48 lawyers who occupied seats in the First Philippine Assembly. The rest were landowners; businessmen; businessmen-landowners; doctors; and a priest.
The Inauguration of the First Philippine Assembly
The date October 16, 1907 was a historical event as the Philippine Assembly was formally inaugurated at the Grand Opera House, Manila. Secretary of War Taft made a special trip to Manila for the sole purpose of attending the inaugural ceremony. He and Governor-General Smith addressed the new legislative body. Bishop Jose Barlin of Naga gave the invocation prayer. After it was convened, the Philippine Assembly proceeded to organize itself. The 29-year old governor of Cebu, Sergio Osmeña was chosen Speaker of the Assembly. His friend and former classmate, Manuel L. Quezon, representing the first district of Tayabas became the majority floor leader, and Vicente Singson, representing the first district of Ilocos Sur, as minority floor leader. Both Osmeña and Quezon were only 29 years old, but both of them were experienced politicians because they had served as provincial governors first before they ran for national seat. After the assembly created 30 standing committees and elected their respective chairmen that reportedly took 40 minutes, Secretary Taft declared the Philippine Legislature open.
The rules of legislature body were patterned after those of the U.S House of Representatives. The assembly came up with two changes from the U.S rules: first, it combined the Ways and Means Committee with the various appropriations committees in the U.S model, creating a powerful single committee known as the Committee on Ways and Means and Appropriations. Another important change was that the Speaker does not assume the post of chairman of the Committee on Rules, unlike U.S practice.
The major contribution of the First Philippine Assembly was its effort to revive the issue of independence with the cooperation of the Philippine Commission. The Philippine Commission and the Philippine Assembly approved its first joint resolution of on October 19, 1907 expressing its gratitude to President of the United States, the Congress and the people of the United States in behalf of the Philippine Assembly and Filipino citizens for having bestowed upon them the privilege to participate in the political affairs and make laws that directly govern them.