Crossroads (Toward  Philippine economic and social progrUS ess)
Philippine Star, 1 May 2019


Old economic problems resurrect themselves in the same form over and over.

An example was the resolution of trade and protection affecting the Philippines as a colony during the early years of the 1900s.

The clash of US interests with the economic interest of the new colony. More than 100 years ago, US tariff policies were established toward the Philippines, its newly acquired colonial territory.

 A year before the acquisition of the Philippines, the US Congress passed a highly protectionist tariff law, the Dingley Tariff of 1897.

The high protection rates of the Dingley tariffs which applied to the colony were detrimental to Philippine exports to the US market. The US colonial administrators wished to promote economic growth and that could be pushed more by the expansion of Philippine exports.

Taft made this clear (in 1905) to the US Congress to help improve the tariff regime for Philippine products. He said: “We, thus, have imposed on us the trust of developing (the Philippine) islands so far as we may politically, educationally and in a business way. In a business way especially, because if a parent or guardian does not keep his child’s or ward’s stomach full, all the political or moral maxims and all the liberty that can be given will be entirely useless and unsatisfactory.”

The case of tobacco tariffs. As early as 1903, the Philippine tobacco workers guild petitioned then US president Theodore Roosevelt for the reduction of Dingley tariffs on Philippine tobacco. They argued that despite low wages in the country, many factors, including the high cost of living in the islands and high freight costs made it difficult for Philippine made tobacco products to enter the US market.

The Roosevelt government supported the measure, and a bill was filed in the US Congress to support the reduction of Dingley tariffs on Philippine tobacco by 25 percent. The House of Representatives was predisposed.

At that point, the Senate Committee on the Philippines decided to hold a hearing on the matter in early 1906 and, afterwards, killed the measure by not acting on it.

Reading further below, we can only guess how or why the senators decided the way they did. Senators of the land – from California to Maine, from the states of the South and of the North – received petitions and testimonies from their constituent local cigarmakers unions.

Misinformation, disinformation, cultural, racist arguments. On extended vacation in Washington DC some 15 years ago, I found myself reading documents on the hearings of the Senate Committee at the US Archives that dealt with today’s topic.

It was an accidental encounter. I was then simply searching for historical topics involving economic issues during the American colonial period in the Philippines.

There were some decently composed petitions, with believable and reasoned arguments.

But I take some outstanding samples of those petitions that had caught my attention which, to say the least, were prejudiced and vitriolic.

There was outright misinformation in some petitions, disinformation (lies) in others. Prejudiced criticisms were aplenty: racist against “coolies,” “semi-civilized,” “people who ate rice and vegetables,” “Filipino,” “Oriental,” “low wages,” and so on. Although there were attempts at local color and uniqueness, many petitions were utter copies and miscopies of other petitions.

Here are some quotes from the petitions from different local unions of tobacco makers:

“We believe that American labor is entitled to some protection against a semi-civilized people who exist on rice and vegetables and who live in huts and bamboo ‘shacks.’ These people are today a little above the barbaric tribes and their ingress into the labor market of the United States would work untold injury not only to cigar makers, but to all classes of American tradesmen.”

“(They are) grinding us down to starvation wages by employing children in their factories. This is bad enough, but for us to compete with Chinese and Filipino lsabor that is out of the question. We are Americans and want to live as Americans…”

“There are 200,000,000 cigars made there; now pass this bill, and 500,000,000 will be made every year. The bill also provides that cigars come in duty free after 1909. The cigars are made by Coolies who earn from 25 cents to 38 cents a day. We cannot compete with this semi-civilized race of Orientals. They live in bamboo huts, need very little clothes and live on rice.

“The American people sacrificed life and money to remove the yoke of Spain from the Filipinos, but this in our opinion did not and does not mean that we should so arrange matters as to strike at our own industries and force the persons engaged at such industries to a condition of a semi-civilized people, who live in huts and subsist chiefly on rice and vegetables.”


Pedro E. Abelarde, American Tariff Policy Toward the Philippines, New York, 1947.

US Archives, Committee on the Philippines, Sen 59A-J84 Tariff between US and Philippines, Jan. 16, 1906-Feb 12, 1906 – Jan. 16, 1906 to Feb. 12, 1906