OPINION: The Philippines circa 1920s, part 2

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jul 20 2019 07:04 AM

As a consequence of last week’s book review of the 1925 exposé cum indictment of the then prevailing Philippine condition: Katherine Mayo’s “The Isles of Fear,” I received inquiries and requests, privately and through Facebook, for additional information. In response to the fact that my piece did stoke curiosities from some quarters, I thought it best to follow up with a ‘part 2.’

It is in the nature of book reviews to describe it in summary form, evaluate its contents, its merit, style and of course its relevance -- all in accordance with a reviewer’s personal taste and/or inclination. Hence a book review is also be an opinion piece.

I do not possess any knowledge of how Ms. Mayo’s book was received in political Manila during the mid-1920s. Of course, she did say that the publication was intended for an American readership.

Furthermore, prominent in her observations was the absence of a genuine Philippine public opinion, suffering from a very high rate of illiteracy then. I can only surmise that the book enjoyed very limited, even controlled, circulation. An uninformed and disconnected public cannot provide impact. Otherwise, “The Isles of Fear” would have been a bombshell!

In the chapter “The Mark of the Beast,” (Chap. II) referencing an unnamed politician in power, Ms. Mayo reveals that she was able to acquire a copy of a 20-year-old official report of an investigation “into his conduct in office at a period twenty years ago when he was Prosecuting attorney, or Fiscal, of a large Island Province.” (1904) She was very careful not to name the individual apart from “this man is ardently admired by young Filipino students.” “By most Filipinos he is consumingly feared, for his power in their world is great. In America he is courteously received and respectfully listened to.” (pp 21-26)

The behavior at issue involved domineering, oppressive habits and an instance of very serious sexual misconduct.

Political allies may have dismissed the incidents cited in that “official report,” which was two decades stale at that book’s moment, simply as youthful exuberance. I presume that at the onset of the 20th century, polite company did not refer to acts of lasciviousness as merely an excess of testosterone! Be that as it may, Ms. Mayo wrote: “His fellow Filipinos today assert that during the two decades intervening those habits have changed only in steadily increased self-indulgence, and in greater and greater disregard for any law but that of his own personal ambition and pleasure.”

The aforementioned chapter relates graphic examples of prevailing relations between the cacique class and the common tao. Bleak as it was, it must be noted, however, that there have been improvements and reparations over time. Unfortunately, not in the magnitude of beneficence that our colonial administrators envisaged and would have desired towards fruition. But somewhat, nonetheless!

“The Isles of Fear’s” exposé and indictment also encompassed the tenure of Governor General Francis Burton Harrison. Ironically, from available history as we know it, Filipinos still rank F.B. Harrison highest in popularity among the list of American proconsuls assigned to minister to the Islands’ well-being. It is hardly known that it was under his incumbency that the Philippine economy tanked severely and “Tammany Hall” practices were introduced, taken advantage of by Filipino caciques and have never deserted the oasis!

On the matter of the country’s near economic collapse as a consequence of the Philippine National Bank skullduggery, the consolidated reportage is to be found in Chapters X and XI.
Most informed Filipinos are now familiar with the term “DOSRI.” It is a distinct prohibition found in the banking laws of the Republic. It is an acronym that stand for Directors, Officers, Stockholders and Related Interests. These entities are specifically proscribed from financial dealings with the bank they own and serve.

About the Philippine National Bank, less than 5 years old, Ms. Mayo wrote: “The President/General Manager, the Vice-president/Asst. G.M. , the Manager of the Foreign Department, the Assistant Chief of the Note-Teller Department, the Managers of the Iloilo and Aparri Branches, as well as various subordinates, had all been prosecuted and convicted of embezzlement and other criminal offences.” (p.115)

“…..General Venancio Concepcion, the first Filipino appointed by the Big Caciques to the Presidency of the Philippine National Bank had already been convicted of fraud committed at an earlier opportunity.” ((p.128). Concepcion was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo. Concepcion’s son was also his Vice-president and Asst. G.M., named above as prosecuted and convicted.

Filipino Directors of PNB “Messrs. Vicente Singson Encarnacion, Vicente Madrigal and Ramon J. Fernandez…..lent to themselves in their capacity of stockholders in three companies…..the sum of $2,150,000.00, after which operation the companies went insolvent.” (p.110) Ms. Mayo continues a few pages later: “It is understood that one loan of about $ 50,000.00 made direct to Mr. Quezon without security, on being uncovered by the examiner, was very quickly paid up by certain of the directors.” Also, another Bank director was Archibald Harrison. He was a brother of the Governor-General. He passed away before the investigations were consumated.

This financial scandal underwent three sets of investigations. It appears that each time, the results were kept hidden from public knowledge. The first one was conducted by a Mr. Francis Coates, a Clearing-House examiner from Ohio, describing the mess as “one unbroken tale of inefficiency, carelessness and mismanagement.”
This was followed by another, this time by Haskins & Sells (now known as Deloitte, Haskins & Sells), prominent US accounting firm. It was obvious that the colonial administration was tip-toeing over eggshells. Evidently, the mercurial Quezon et al had to be handled daintily and with kid gloves! With great care and sensibility, that is.

Again, as political caution, the American government commissioned a third one, perhaps for the sake of prudence since a new Governor General had been recently appointed, just to be more than doubly sure that the findings are beyond error and therefore, convincingly binding.

Top U.S. Bank Examiners, Messrs. B.F. Wright and L.H. Martin submitted a thorough revaluation which Governor General Leonard Wood submitted to Senate President Quezon and Speaker Roxas. Both sat on the report with inaction and secrecy. When Wood finally released the Wright-Martin Report to the press, due to prolonged inaction, he was virulently attacked as anti-Filipino, anti-independence and “a military despot.”

Ms. Mayo succinctly described the Philippine National Bank as “an organization containing not a single trained banker, not one single man familiar with banking detail, was handling and investing $150,000,000.00 of values. And there being no bank examiners, no one was keeping check.”

Beyond argument, this was an occurrence under the auspices of the Jones Law which turned out to be putty in the hands of Manuel L. Quezon with F.B. Harrison a consenting, complicit “adult.” And who knows, even “compensated?”

When the entire Philippine National Bank imbroglio finally met publicly exposure, although hardly had Philippine public opinion stirred, the editorial of Far Eastern Economic Review of September 1923 (as quoted) summed it up thus: “They (the Filipino politicos) were like a child with a new toy (PNB). They laughed and cried over it, hugged it and kissed it, fondled it, rocked it to sleep and then woke it up and jumped on it, banged it with a club, ripped it open and pulled the stuffing out.”

There was no genuinely, publicly and effectively-formed opinion in those days. Estimated degree of literacy hovered just above 37%. An active press, and of it there was ample, was owned and controlled by cacique interests. Indeed, a situation no longer prevailing.

Today, we have social media overwhelmed by a well-oiled mercenary “trolletariat,” with no other purpose but to deceive and confuse! There lies the new enemy of Truth and existential need for unmolested journalism.

I certainly will be guilty of not remembering all the exemplars. However, I will be even more remiss if I did not say that there is in the Philippines today, a reincarnation of Katherine Mayo. I find her in the fearless work of the Rappler, ABS-CBN, the Vera Files. The spirit and skill of Ms. Mayo, better honed today, reside in the commitment to truth exemplified by Maria Ressa, Raissa Robles, Ellen Tordesillas, Malou Mangahas, and by many more. “Truth to Power,” a public need never ever sharper!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.