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Philippine Fadeout


As the nation's Rotarians and Grand Commanders sweated through the first oratorical field day in five years, the choicest paeans were reserved for the newly-created Philippine Republic and the American colonial policy that sanctioned its independence. But as Washington lays down the white man's burden, and as Congress examines our colonial past in the light of its new halo, this same body might do well to review the legislation that has put the Roxas government on its own. This legislation might throw a sudden chill into Filipinos warmed with the first taste of self-rule. For the Bell Bill has given Manila just eight years grace from American tariff restrictions and, to the sugar growers of Luzon, this means that in eight years the sugar will rot on the waterfronts and even the brand new Constitution won't buy the rice or balance the books.

But American "interests" being what they are, it is surprising that the Farm Bloc in the U. S. House of Representatives allowed even an eight year moratorium on the highly restrictive sugar tariff. For the sugar-beet people, wary of potential competition, have always been hard-headed about Philippine independence and even this short-run freeing of the market is viewed with suspicion from Madison to Butte. The Bell Bill was obviously a compromise, with political altruism knuckling under to politics-as-usual while the wobbly Philippine infant got the economic pins knocked out from under it.

It is foolish to expect a war-ravaged country such as the Philippines to diversify her entire economy in eight years so that other exports might fill the gap caused by a sugar barrier. Traditionally, sugar is to the Filipino standard of living as coffee is to the Brazilians or cotton to Mississippi growers. The comparison is less than fair considering the losses suffered by Luzon industry during the occupation and the unrest that has paralyzed attempts at large-scale industrial recovery. President Roxas will have all he can do to salvage and rebuild the old plants and mills. Conversion from a one-crop economy must be relegated to days when actual survival is not a day-to-day headache.

American responsibility does not end with the signatures on the Tyding-McDuffie Act of independence. From the viewpoint of a trustee country that has invested great sums and thousands of lives in Philippine independence it is scarcely consistent to threaten that independence with eventual, if slow, strangulation. And is this new entity to compete on equal terms with Japanese or British colonial enterprise if it must continually scramble to avert economic tragedy in the sugar market?

From the viewpoint of practical Washington politics, it is paradoxical that reciprocal trade agreements are signed with Czechoslovakia that put Czech shoes in competition with Massachusetts shoes, while this same type economic fillip is denied a country linked to the U. S. by tradition and two wars. As the log-rolling proceeds, Congress is unwilling to sour the sugar-beet bloc, but is perfectly willing to pat an infant-nation on the head and set it loose with one foot tied. The Bell Bill tariff exemption must be extended indefinitely lest the Philippine experiment, pride of this country's colonial ventures, backfire into the face of its proud sponsor.

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