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Veto of a Bill Providing for the Independence of the Philippine Islands

January 13, 1933

To the House of Representatives:

I return, herewith, without my approval, H.R. 7233, entitled "An act to enable the people of the Philippine Islands to adopt a constitution and form a government for the Philippine Islands, to provide for the independence of the same, and for other purposes."

The Philippine people have to-day as great a substance of ordered liberty and human freedom as any people in the world. They lack the form of separate nationality which is indeed their rightful spiritual aspiration. They have been encouraged in this aspiration by every President of the United States during the years of our association with the Philippines and by declarations of the Congress.

But in securing this spiritual boon to the 13,000,000 people in these islands the United States has a triple responsibility. That is responsibility to the Philippine people, responsibility to the American people, and responsibility to the world at large. Our responsibility to the Philippine people is that in finding a method by which we consummate their aspiration we do not project them into economic and social chaos, with the probability of breakdown in government, with its consequences in degeneration of a rising liberty which has been so carefully nurtured by the United States at the cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of millions of money. Our responsibility to the American people is that we shall see the fact of Philippine separation accomplished without endangering ourselves in military action hereafter to maintain internal order or to protect the Philippines from encroachment by others, and above all that this shall be accomplished so as to avoid the very grave dangers of future controversies and seeds of war with other nations. We have a responsibility to the world that having undertaken to develop and perfect freedom for these people we shall not by our course project more chaos into a world already sorely beset by instability. The present bill fails to fulfill these responsibilities. It invites all these dangers. It does not fulfill the idealism with which this task in human liberation was undertaken.


The bill provides for a constitution of a specified character to be framed by a Philippine convention, for the submission to the Filipino people, and for the incidental determination as to whether or not they desire independence. In the event of a favorable vote, and after probably about 2 years, an intermediate government of the Philippine Islands is established, the office of Governor General is abolished, and all important civil authority of the United States is effectively abrogated, except for certain inconsequential powers which are vested in a high commissioner. The United States retains also during the approximately 10-year period of intermediate government, the powers of limited control over legislation (by the President), of judicial review in certain cases (by the United States Supreme Court), of supervision of foreign affairs, and of military occupation. Immigration is regulated and during the same period certain duty-free imports into the United States are curtailed to specified quotas. The intermediate government is to levy export taxes, to increase from an initial charge of 5 per cent in the sixth year of that government to 25 per cent in the tenth year. Complete independence is automatically established in the eleventh year after the inauguration of the intermediate government; and all free trade between the Philippine Islands and the United States is then terminated, unless some other understanding is arrived at by a trade conference. The United States retains, after the establishment of independence, the right to maintain military and naval stations in the Philippine Islands; and the bill calls for an effort on the part of the United States to safeguard the future of the Islands by securing international neutralization.

I am returning this bill because I consider that it is subject to the most serious objections. In the statement which follows, I do not enter upon many secondary criticisms, but confine myself to the broader aspects of the subject, which, in any event, must dominate conclusions as to rightful action.


During the period of intermediate government prior to complete independence, not alone the internal and external political relations of the Philippine people must be adjusted, but they must adjust their economic life to the complete abrogation of the present free-trade association with the United States. The period for such adjustment in this act is too short, too violent. These adjustments will not be confined to the period after independence. On the contrary, these reactions will begin much before that, for people do not wait to adjust their affairs until after a known certainty. They discount and prepare in advance. To grasp these implications, we must consider what is proposed at the end of the 10-year period. The free entry of Philippine products into the United States, that is 80 per cent of their foreign market, is to cease at that time, or at best be subject to an indefinite negotiation. Unfortunately for these people their economic life to-day, and for many years to come, is absolutely dependent upon their favored trade with the United States. Many of their industries can not compete with the lower standards of living and costs in other tropical and subtropical countries, except by virtue of their favored entrance to our markets. Lands now employed in these products must be abandoned or alternatively all real wages and standards of living and all land values must be reduced to the level of other competing countries. Consequently, capital invested in large industries, the security for mortgages held by their banks, their insurance companies, their other institutions must be greatly reduced, the financial system of the islands endangered, a flight of capital must ensue, the ability of the people to pay taxes undermined, the government revenues diminished, and its ability to maintain its obligations and to maintain public order will be weakened. The government already has difficulty balancing its budget and this difficulty will be thus intensified. Under these circumstances they must inevitably and soon greatly diminish a large part of their generous support to schools, health, and roads.

The American Government will be faced after projection of these events with years of military occupation among a degenerating economic and social life, with all its governmental difficulties.

A large part of the motivation for the passage of this bill is presumed relief to certain American agricultural industries from competition by Philippine products. We are trustees for these people and we must not let our selfish interest dominate that trust. However, from our agricultural point of view, during the first period of presumably two years it gives no protection of any kind. During the following five years it gives no effective protection because the amount of competitive commodities admitted into the United States duty-free is in sugar 50 per cent larger than that of 1928; vegetable oils 25 per cent larger. In any event the sugar benefits inure more largely to foreign producers than to our own farmers. If we are to predicate the fate of 13,000,000 people upon this motive we should at least not mislead our farmers about it. If we are to base our action upon economic consideration--and I do not neglect its importance--then also we should give regard to our farmers, workers, and business men whose livelihood, particularly upon the Pacific coast, will be largely destroyed by lack of positive provisions for reciprocal trade after independence upon which they can predicate their future.


The bill weakens our civil authority during the period of intermediate government to a point of practical impotence. The powers which the high commissioner can exercise on his own initiative are unimportant, and those which can be delegated to him by the President over legislation are doubtful and indirect. During this period, however, the American flag will be flying and our Army will be in occupation. Our Government, with inadequate civil means for exercising its sovereign authority to control the situation but with continued moral responsibility to maintain stable government, will daily, during those years, be faced with the likelihood of having to employ military measures to maintain order in a degenerating social and economic situation, or alternately to expend large sums from our taxpayers in supporting a constantly enfeebled government. Not alone do these difficulties arise from the intermediate situation we create, but the non-Christian population who are as yet bitterly opposed to the controlling group, constituted at the last Philippine census a majority of the combined population of nine Provinces, occupying about 40 per cent of the total land area of the Philippine Islands. The maintenance of order in this considerable element has presented many difficulties to us in the past and it is not reasonable to assume that the intermediate government will be as well qualified to handle the situation as the present regime for a long time. Moreover, without real civil authority we can have no assurance that the intermediate government may not find itself in difficulties with citizens of other nationalities which may involve the United States. Such responsibility in these situations, without adequate authority, can lead only to disaster.




The income of the Philippine government has never in the past been sufficient to meet, in addition to other expenditures, the cost of supporting even the Filipino .Scouts, much less an army or navy. The United States expends to-day upon the native and American military forces, for the protection and assurance of internal order, and for the maintenance of the minimum requirements of external defense, a sum amounting to approximately 28 per cent of the entire revenues of the Philippine government. If the naval expenditures of the United States in the Philippine Islands are included, this figure is increased to 36 per cent; and it must be remarked that both figures relate to the expenses of the forces actually in the islands and do not include the very pertinent potential protection afforded by the entire military and naval powers of the United States. It can scarcely be expected that the Philippine Islands will be able to increase their revenues by 36 or even 28 per cent to provide the force necessary for maintaining internal order and the minimum of external defense, even were no internal economic degeneration anticipated. They could only do so at a sacrifice of a large part of their educational and public improvements.


The Philippines include, in terms of comparison with their neighboring oriental countries, large areas of undeveloped resources. The pressures of those immense neighbor populations for peaceful infiltration or forceable entry into this area are most potent. Many of these races are more devoted to commercial activities than the population of the islands and the infiltration is constant and fraught with friction. Nor has the spirit of imperialism and the exploitation of peoples by other races departed from the Earth. After the establishment of independence the Filipino people alone will be helpless to prevent such infiltration or invasion. Their problem is infinitely different from that of Cuba or other nations in the Western Hempishere. Moreover, the political dangers of the situation are greatly increased by the present political instability in the Orient. The impact of western ideas upon oriental systems of culture and government has created a profound ferment among this half of the population of the world. Our own future and the future of the Filipino people, both in maintenance of peace and the development of our own economic life and trade, are deeply involved.

To-day the picture is chaotic. It is impossible to see what the next two decades may bring. It is a certainty that at the end of such a period we can see more clearly and the Philippine people can see more clearly the forces which are formulating. It would be the part of common caution upon their own behalf and both generosity and caution in our own part that final determination as to the nature of our relations should be deferred and that both of us should take this momentous decision after a much longer period than two years. When the Philippine people vote within two years upon a constitution they take the irrevocable step of final independence. By maintenance of our military occupation and our national guardianship, the United States must and will give protection against external pressure during the period of intermediate government. The bill makes no effective provision for the maintenance of their independence thereafter from outside pressure, except a promise of effort on our part toward neutralization. We have the option to continue maintenance of military and naval bases. Other nations are unlikely to become parties to neutralization if we continue such bases and neutralization is a feeble assurance of independence in any event unless we guarantee it. That again is the perpetual engagement of the United States in their affairs. But with the impression that these ideas in the bill convey it is likely that the Philippine people would vote in two years in the belief that independence is thereby attained and with the more or less general belief that we will indefinitely engage our power and our own future welfare in the altruistic mission of preserving their independence from international forces against which they are incapable of defending themselves. Therefore, before any plebiscite is held we should honestly and plainly declare our intentions. This bill does not do this. In discharge of the moral responsibilities of our country we have no right to force an irrevocable decision on their part to be taken two years hence at a moment in history when the outlook in the world and of their surroundings is at best unfavorable to their permanent independence.


If the American people consider that they have discharged their responsibilities to the Philippine people, have carried out the altruistic mission which we undertook, if we have no further national stake in the islands, if the Philippine people are now prepared for self-government, if they can maintain order and their institutions, if they can now defend their independence, we should say so frankly on both sides. I hold that this is not the case. Informed persons on neither side have made such declarations without many reservations. Nor can these conditions be solved by the evasions and proposals of this bill without national dishonor.

In my view we must undertake further steps toward the liberation of the Philippine Islands, but they should be based upon a plebiscite to be taken 15 or 20 years hence. On such an occasion there would be a full impress upon the Filipinos of the consequences of their act instead of its confusion as a side issue to the substitution of another intermediate form of self-government offering no vital improvement in their liberties to that they now possess. They should then have freedom to form their own constitution and government, both in the light of experience and the forces moving at that time. In the meantime we should develop steadily through an expansion of the organic act a larger importance to their own officials by extension of authority to Cabinet government, with a full reserve of powers to our representatives. Immigration should be restricted at once. We should cooperate with them to bring about their economic independence before the plebiscite by very gradual reduction of their free imports. We should, prior to such plebiscite, or any sooner date that the Philippine people propose, fix a mutual preference in trade similar to and on a wider scale than that with Cuba. The United States should plainly announce prior to the time of this plebiscite whether (a) it will make absolute and complete withdrawal from all military and naval bases, and from every moral or other commitment to maintain their independence, or (b) the conditions as to authority and rights within the islands under which we will continue that protection.

These final steps cannot be properly determined now by either the Philippine people or ourselves.

We are here dealing with one of the most precious rights of man--national independence interpreted as separate nationality. It is the national independence of 13,000,000 human beings. We have here a specific duty. The ideals under which we undertook this responsibility, our own national instincts and our institutions Which we have implanted on these islands, breathes with these desires. It is a goal not to be reached by yielding to selfish interests, to resentments, or to abstractions, but with full recognition of our responsibilities and all their implications and all the forces which would destroy the boon we seek to confer and the dangers to our own freedom from entanglements which our actions may bring. Neither our successors nor history will discharge us of responsibility for actions which diminish the liberty we seek to confer nor for dangers which we create for ourselves as a consequence of our acts. This legislation puts both our people and the Philippine people not on the road to liberty and safety, which we desire, but on the path leading to new and enlarged dangers to liberty and freedom itself.


The White House,

January 13, 1933.

Note: Congress enacted H.R. 7233 over the President's veto on January 17, 1933, as Public, No. 311 (47 Stat. 761). The Philippine Legislature, however, voted to reject independence under the terms of the act, and the legislation was never implemented.

On the same day, the White House issued texts of reports on the bill by Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of Commerce Roy D. Chapin, and Secretary of Agriculture Arthur M. Hyde.

Herbert Hoover, Veto of a Bill Providing for the Independence of the Philippine Islands Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208001

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