Friday, October 22, 2004

MacArthur sought RP independence

MacArthur sought RP independence

Updated 00:58am (Mla time) Oct 22, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 22, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

HISTORIAN Teodoro Agoncillo taught me to be critical of historical sources. His advice was to examine the source-who is writing it and why? Is the narrative written shortly after the event, or remembered dimly years later? Agoncillo said private correspondence was more reliable than public pronouncements or self-serving memoirs.

While reading Douglas MacArthur's "Reminiscences," I remembered Agoncillo's advice. However, there are some details on the Leyte landing I hope to cross-check with a Filipino source like, say, Sergio Osmeña or Carlos P. Romulo who waded ashore in Leyte province on that historic day 60 years ago.

MacArthur gave the famous "Rally to me" speech he broadcast to the people of the Philippines from Leyte. Reading the same text today makes people cringe because it sounds melodramatic-and to some, downright corny-yet few know about a letter MacArthur scribbled and sent to US President Roosevelt. Again the text is from his memoirs:

"Near Tacloban, Philippine Islands

"October 20, 1944

"Dear Mr. President:

"This note is written from the beach near Tacloban [capital of Leyte] where we have just landed. It will be the first letter from the freed Philippines. I thought you might like it for your philatelic collection. I hope it gets through.

"The operation is going smoothly and if successful will strategically as well as tactically cut the enemy forces in two. Strategically it will pierce the center of his defensive line extending along the coast of Asia from the Japanese homeland to the tip of Singapore, and will enable us to envelop to the north or south as we desire. It severs completely the Japanese from their infamous propaganda slogan of the 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.' Tactically it divides his forces in the Philippines in two and by bypassing the southern half of the Philippines will result in the saving of possibly fifty thousand American casualties. He had expected us and prepared on Mindanao.

"The Filipinos are reacting splendidly and I feel that a successful campaign of liberation if promptly followed by a dramatic granting to them of independence will place American prestige in the Far East as the highest pinnacle of all times.

"Once more, on the highest plane of statesmanship, I venture to urge that this great ceremony be presided over by you in person. Such a step will electrify the world and redound immeasurable to the credit and honor of the United States for a thousand years.

"Please excuse this scribble but at this moment I am on the combat line with no facilities except this filed message pad."

It is unfortunate that MacArthur has been reduced, in the popular mind, to a fashion icon for RayBan sunglasses. He is best remembered for the promise, "I shall return." Wouldn't he be better remembered for the fulfillment of that promise when he uttered in Leyte rather matter-of-factly, "I have returned"?

Brushing up on the Leyte landing made me realize how many books have been published on MacArthur, and yet Filipinos know so little about him or his deep relationship with the Philippines. Our textbooks do not even mention that he wanted Roosevelt to recognize Philippine independence, something that was taken from us in 1898 when Spain sold the archipelago and its inhabitants to the United States for the “ukay-ukay” [rummage sale] price of $20 million. Of course, the value of money was different in 1898, but some corrupt military and government officials today have stashed away more than that amount.

While we have to be critical of MacArthur's memoirs, I couldn't get over his recognition of civilian supremacy over the military when he restored the Commonwealth government in the ruins of the provincial capitol days after the landing. Sergio Osmeña, according to MacArthur, was surprised by this act, thinking the trip was largely ceremonial and that he would return to the United States after the photo opportunity in Leyte.

MacArthur did not consult with Washington on this point, causing a rift with Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who wanted to take charge of the Philippines. According to MacArthur:

"It was his claim that the archipelago was a 'possession' of the United States and he seemed to think of the islands as another one of his national parks. In the period before our landings at Leyte, he informed me that he would take charge as soon as we had completed the invasion. Most certainly he was opposed to giving the reins of government into the hands of President Osmeña and the regularly elected authorities."

It was also important that the Commonwealth government took over to temper the witch-hunt for collaborators that MacArthur feared would be put in motion by Ickes who informed MacArthur that "he had been advised as to who had been loyal and disloyal to the United States during the period of the Japanese Occupation, and that he was going to try the disloyal people for treason."

All these come into play in another cloudy part of our history: the collaboration issue. MacArthur says that if Ickes had his way, then one of the many men who would be brought to court would be Manuel Roxas who became president in 1946.

One wonders what Ickes wrote in his diaries and other papers. There is much that has to be researched and reevaluated as we address the rewriting of our history textbooks.

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