Commonwealth of the Philippines – 1935 to 1946.

The Commonwealth Era (1935-1946)

When Woodrow Wilson became the American President, in 1913, there was a major change in official American policy concerning the Philippines. While the previous Republican administrations had envisioned the Philippines as a perpetual American colony, the Wilson administration decided to start a process that would gradually lead to Philippine independence.

U.S. administration of the Philippines was declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. Therefore, U.S. officials concentrated on the creation of such practical supports for democratic government, as public education and a sound legal system.

The Philippines were granted free trade status, with the U.S. In 1916, the Philippine Autonomy Act, popularly known as the Jones Law, was passed by the U.S. Congress. The law which served as the new organic act (or constitution) for the Philippines, stated in its preamble that the eventual independence of the Philippines would be American policy, subject to the establishment of a stable government. The law maintained the Governor General of the Philippines, appointed by the President of the United States. They were also to establish a bicameral Philippine Legislature to replace the elected Philippine Assembly (lower house) and appoint a Philippine Commission (upper house) previously in place. The Filipino House of Representatives would be purely elected while the new Philippine Senate would have the majority of its members elected by senatorial district with senators representing non-Christian areas appointed by the Governor-General. The 1920s saw alternating periods of cooperation and confrontation with American governors-general, depending on how intent the incumbent was on exercising his powers vis-à-vis the Philippine legislature.

In 1934, the United States Congress, having originally passed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act as a Philippine Independence Act over President Hoover's veto, only to have the law rejected by the Philippine legislature, finally passed a new Philippine Independence Act popularly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act.

The law provided for the granting of Philippine independence by 1946. The period 1935-1946 would ideally be devoted to the final adjustments required for a peaceful transition to full independence, with great latitude in autonomy being granted in the meantime.

On May 14, 1935, an election to fill the newly created office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was won by Manuel L. Quezon (Nacionalista Party) and a Filipino government was formed on the basis of principles superficially similar to the US Constitution.

The Commonwealth was established in 1935 and featured a very strong executive, a unicameral National Assembly and a Supreme Court, composed entirely of Filipinos for the first time since 1901.


The new government embarked on an ambitious agenda of establishing the basis for national defense, greater control over the economy, reforms in education, improvement of transport, the colonization of the island of Mindanao and the promotion of local capital and industrialization. The Commonwealth however, was also faced with agrarian unrest, an uncertain diplomatic and military situation in South East Asia and uncertainty about the level of United States commitment to the future Republic of the Philippines.

In 1939-40, the Philippine Constitution was amended to restore a bicameral Congress, and permit the reelection of President Quezon, previously restricted to a single, six-year term.

When the Americans came to de-Hispanicize the Islas Filipinas of Spain in 1898 and when they began to send Hispanic Americans from the U.S. west coast( mostly from California and Texas most missionaries and teachers who are also bilingual fluent in Spanish and American English) and started schools gradually changing the school system from Spanish to American English they knew it would be a lot of work, for what Spain left as a legacy among its Illustrados and its citizens, was deeply rooted for generations(over three centuries of Spanish and Portuguese cultural influence), manifested fully in its loyalty to the Roman Catholic faith, the result of over a centuries struggle. The result will be the official language of the nation, Tagalog. (which is a mixture of native dialects and broken Spanish). This made English both the official second language of the country and became both a medium of instructions in colleges and universities and made The Philippines the most bilingual of all countries in Asia and the South Pacific. Spanish was also made an official language until 1987.

Filipino, largely based on the Tagalog language, became the official language in 1937.

For further information on the history of the Philippines have a look here.

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