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Houston Texas
September 2006
The Founding Father
by Lope Lindio

9/11 will forever be itched indelibly in human consciousness as the most cowardly attack in the history of mankind. But to a great majority of Filipino-Americans, the month of September is even more dreaded for reasons other than what happened in 2001 in the U.S. 9/11 is also the birthday of Ferdinand Marcos, the one Filipino who dishonored his race by putting them under his heel when he declared martial law on 09/21/1972.

But be that as it may, the month of September has other dates that could save it from ignominy. September 9, 1878 is such a date. That the birthday of the late President Sergio Osmena, a genuine Filipino hero who should be remembered as the first among equals of the founding fathers who played midwife to the birth of the Philippine Republic on 07/04/1946.

The lasting legacy of Sergio Osmena was in showing to the American colonialists and the world kibitzing at the sidelines that the Filipinos were capable of running their own show in self-government. He accomplished this by bridging and then fusing the competing objectives of the colonizers out to assert their imperial prerogatives and the Filipino nationalists whose desire was immediate independence. He also had to arbitrate the clashing personalities and ideas of the Filipino leaders themselves who came from assorted backgrounds, as disparate as the elite of the old Spanish establishment, the officer ranks of the revolution, the hierarchy of the aborted short-lived Philippine republic, and the never-say-die patriots who were still fighting the Americans in the far-flung provinces and islands of the country.

When Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela, and all the other leaders of the war between the Philippine and the U.S. were either silenced or exiled by the Americans, the renewed struggle for independence had to take a new direction. There was going to be no more armed conflict for liberation. The new dispensation brought by the Americans had a new face. It was no longer wearing a cassock. And its declared policy was more in teaching Filipinos, like English, and when they could read already service manuals, in selling them something made in U.S.A. , rather than in saving their souls from hell or purgatory.

The newcomers were a new bred of colonials. The recently vanquished revolutionaries against Spain and the war leaders against the U.S. were ill prepared to take them head-on, not ready that they were in navigating the uncharted waters of the parliamentary struggle for independence that ensued.

Already, prominent leaders of the short-lived Philippine republic succumbed to the American policy of attraction. They organized the Partido Federalista, and collaborated openly with them in trying to bring the country completely under their control. The Partido Nacionalista was the home of the so-called Mabini irreconcilables in 1899. It was reported that for a while, the party had the support of Sergio Osmena and Rafael Palma. But this soon evolved into the leadership of Osmena and Quezon who turned it less combative and more pragmatic in its approach to make it work as the vehicle to carry the fight for Philippine independence.

Very little has been written about Sergio Osmena because he lived long and had the misfortune of outliving his great deeds. He was also overshadowed in later life when, in the spirit of Filipino unity, he agreed to run for vice president of Quezon who eventually became a wartime president. But the country owes him more recognition than he has been given for his services to the fledgling Philippine civil government, much in the same way that Aguinaldo is less honored today than if he died young at the eight of his heroic career.

Osmena was responsible for repackaging the demand for independence in a way that it did not make the Americans feel threatened. Quezon himself conceded that much, and more, later in life when he was asked of Osmena role at the time. He said that it was only Osmena who was prepared and ready to step up to the plate. He displayed unique knowledge of American government and the political game the Americans played by prepping himself up through self-study!

In Resil Mojares book, Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, he wrote that at the time the Philippine revolution broke out in 1896, the 18-year old law student Osmena, at the University of Santo Tomas , was writing articles in the Manila newspaper, El Comercio and the Cebu newspaper, El Boletin. His writings were supportive of the Spanish government. It was probably for this work, among others, that he received the Medalla de Metito Civil, the highest award given by the Spanish colonial government to any civilian in the Philippines .

Three years later, he became a representative in Manila of the Cebu junta that shepherded the war against the Americans. He was directed to contact Aguinaldo regarding the course of the military campaign. A meeting apparently took place in Tarlac, and he followed him to Pangasinan as Osmena figured in the diary pages of Aguinaldo physician, Dr. Santiago Barcelona, on 11/14/1899: Our ¦rearguard was cut off by the enemy [Americans]. The party consisted of President Aguinaldo's mother and his son, secretaries Buencamino, delas Alas, Ilagan, Gerona , Osmena , Col Leyba.

Author Mojares observed that around this time, Osmena quickly saw, not long after the start of the Filipino-American hostilities, the inevitability of American victory. He saw that both personal and national aspirations had to be pursued within the realities of the American rule. Towards this end, he assiduously applied himself to the understanding of American law, politics, and government. He was already learning English in Cebu and Manila , from Josephine Bracken who, a couple of years after becoming a Rizal widow, married a Cebuano, Vicente Abad y Recio, a Tabacalera employee.

Osmena's wartime company with the Buencaminos, delas Alases, cited above, and his having brought to Cebu, Rafael Palma, the future UP president, and Jaime de Veyra, who later became an eminent writer/politician, to help him publish the first daily newspaper in the province, demonstrated that he was already well positioned and rightly connected to the proper people and places in Manila society. This was indeed heady stuff to one who was born illegitimate to an unmarried shopkeeper, although kept in respectable life style by the patronage and support of very wealthy maternal uncles.

Osmena and Quezon took the same 1903 bar examinations. Osmena was second placer; a certain J.L. Quintos scored the highest. Quezon did not do badly either. He was in the list of the first ten successful barristers. Osmena was already a member of the Cebu municipal council when he took the bar. He was later appointed provincial fiscal of Cebu and Negros Oriental after he got his law license.

The former Governor General and later US Secretary of War William Howard Taft, visited Cebu in 1905. Osmena led the local leaders in pressing the US to declare its intentions with regard to the future and definite status of the Philippines and in stressing that such decision must be based solely on the happiness of the inhabitants and the demonstration that the Filipinos may have made of their capacity for self-government as may be seen from the viewpoint of Philippine interest. Taft commended him for his work on the 24 propositions presented and for the great reception given him.

When elected Cebu governor in 1906, he was also chosen by his peers as presiding officer of the convention of provincial governors in Manila . Later, he was elected to the Philippine Assembly, where he was elected Speaker at the age of 27. At this age, he was younger than the average age of the members, which was 37. Of the delegates, 47 were lawyers, including Manuel Quezon and old guards Pedro Paterno, Vicente Singson Encarnacion, etc; 57 had university education; 75 were educated in Manila or Spain; 21 served in the Spanish government, 54 held civil or military office in the short-lived Philippine republic, and 54 had served in the American government in the Philippines. And it was only four years ago that their newly elected speaker, Osmena, had passed the bar examinations! Now he was no. 2 in the government hierarchy; second only to the American governor general in terms of power, authority, and social rank.

The secret of the success of this countryside-based (PROMDI) leader was, among others, Osmena's success in handling lawless elements; pragmatic approach to governance according to Taft and US Gov. Gen. Henry C. Ide; executive ability, cunning, persistence, quality as conciliator, trader, etc, according to Governor Generals Forbes, Wood, etc.

Author Mojares wrote in his book that Teodoro Kalaw, who later became a close aide of Quezon, reported that Osmena began to impress a wide array of leaders during his frequent trips to Manila as early as 1905. He participated in the meetings of the Nacionalista Party at the home of Don Pablo Ocampo on Calle Palma and quickly established his presence and credentials when he coined the slogan Immediate Independence which was then considered rather radical. Osmena, he said, recast the old appeals for independence and placed them on a more practical basis.

Thus, Osmena, in a speech at a banquet in honor of American Commissioner W.Morgan Shuster in 1906, laid the case of the Filipino people by saying that independence would be the logical result of the development of the American policy in the Islands and to present for the first time the issue of independence, not as a thesis wholly and separately that of the Filipinos, but as the logical result and final flowering of the American occupation of the Philippines.

He later served as Senator of the realm, Vice-President, and finally President when Quezon died in Lake Saranak , New York.


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