Philippine Independence Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the Philippine Independence Act, the United States promised independence to the Philippines by 1944, and in doing so it paved the way for expansion of U.S. economic interests in the islands.

Summary of Event

On March 24, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Philippine Independence Act, popularly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The law promised independence to the Philippine islands by 1944, following a ten-year transition period of “commonwealth status.” During that time, the islands were to be governed by their own national legislature and executive branches; policy-making power, however, would continue to remain in the United States. This commonwealth system was in place when the Philippines were invaded and occupied by the Japanese in 1942, an event that delayed Philippine independence for two years (until 1946). [kw]Philippine Independence Act (Mar. 24, 1934) [kw]Independence Act, Philippine (Mar. 24, 1934) [kw]Act, Philippine Independence (Mar. 24, 1934) Philippine Independence Act (1934) Philippines;independence from U.S. Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934)[Tydings Macduffie Act] [g]Philippines;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] [g]Southeast Asia;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] [g]United States;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] [c]Independence movements;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Mar. 24, 1934: Philippine Independence Act[08620] Hawes, Harry B. McDuffie, John Osmeña, Sergio Quezón, Manuel Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Phillipine Independence Act Tydings, Millard

Initial support for the Philippine legislation came from particular special interest groups both in the United States and in the Philippines. Striving for their own nationhood, many native Filipino lobbying groups pushed hard for the act’s passage. A more economically based pressure came from American beet-sugar producers, who sought to eliminate competition from island goods, and from trade-union leaders, who wanted to prevent the influx of Filipino workers into the Hawaiian islands and the U.S. mainland. These groups had earlier lent similar support to the legislative predecessor of the Philippine Independence Act, the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act of 1933. Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act (1933)[Hare Hawes Cutting Act] The earlier act’s attempt to curb competitive imports from the Philippines was rejected by the U.S. Senate in a close vote.

After the defeat of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting legislation, a new contingent of Filipino supporters of independence traveled to Washington, D.C., where they were joined by those groups of politically influential Americans who supported Philippine autonomy. Sergio Osmeña led the Philippine delegation, but his call for immediate independence was too drastic for many in the American group. He was subsequently recalled to Manila. His replacement, Manuel Quezón, took a less politically offensive position, emphasizing a gradualist approach to independence for the islands. He was thus able to enlist the support of additional American politicians who favored a more moderate approach to Philippine independence. The resulting coalition influenced the passage of the Philippine Independence Act.

Following enactment of the Philippine Independence Act’s legislation, the Filipino delegation returned home to draft a constitution and to elect officials who would oversee the gradual transition to Philippine autonomy. Quezón and Osmeña were elected president and vice president, respectively, of the new commonwealth. Although steps were taken to create a Filipino-based political structure, most of the political decision-making authority still rested with the United States. Filipinos did, however, retain limited control over internal political affairs, but all foreign policy, defense, and monetary matters were defined and implemented in Washington. This political arrangement clearly benefited the United States at the expense of the Filipinos: The commonwealth was prohibited from legislating most of its own economic policies, and In particular, legislation was passed that imposed duties on Philippine exports to the United States.


The Philippine Independence Act ensured that, under the new commonwealth system, the cliental politics and economics of the old colonial structure were perfected. Increasingly, the Philippine presidency came to resemble the office of an American state governor: Quezón was accorded certain discretionary powers, but only where American interests were not affected. Quezón could organize an army, but he could not deploy it without President Roosevelt’s consent. Travel to foreign lands and discussion of trade agreements with foreign officials could take place, but Quezón was powerless to conclude any formal agreement. The enactment of any official Philippine trade agreements remained under the authority of the U.S. high commissioner of the Philippines. This position, strengthened by the provisions of the Philippine Independence Act, protected the interests of the United States in all foreign relations and established official relationships between the Philippines and all other nations.

Looking after American interests abroad required the centralization of political authority in Manila. As a result, domestic policies were often delegated from the top level of Philippine government. It was under such an arrangement that President Quezón increasingly took advantage of his position. As long as his policy initiatives did not conflict with American interests, he wielded immense power, especially toward those who opposed his policies. Quezón often crushed his opposition with American blessings, and the elimination of domestic competition greatly increased Quezón’s confidence. He began to challenge some of the policies of American commonwealth administrators and even, at times, those of the high commissioner. Chastised at this level, he boldly began to take his conflicts to the American president. Although he was successful in protesting the directives of the high commissioner on some occasions, his appeals to President Roosevelt most often produced results that reinforced American hegemony in the Philippines.

Under the structure authorized by the Philippine Independence Act, the goal of true Philippine independence was increasingly circumvented, and American sovereignty over the Philippines continued in the name of independence. American suzerainty was magnified by a commonwealth political system that furthered American economic interests at the expense of the islands’ position as a competitor in the world market, and in the end, the Philippines became increasingly dependent on American economic interests. Commonwealth status destroyed what the Philippines needed in order to compete economically on a global scale: revenue from the export of duty-free goods to the United States. Without trade revenues, the Philippines became increasingly dependent on the United States for loans and investments, which were always made, of course, with the understanding that U.S. interests came first. As the Philippine treasury emptied, the commonwealth thus became more indebted to the United States. The implementation of the Philippine Independence Act both initiated and reinforced this condition.

The new relationship between the Philippines and the United States established by the Philippine Independence Act produced a paradox: The closer the Philippines came to political independence, the more economically dependent on the United States it became. In the end, the Philippine Independence Act reinforced the idea that the only kind of independence that would be granted to the Filipinos was the kind that the United States could not grant, at least under the conditions of the day. Ultimately, after intense cooperation during the ravages of World War II, Filipinos were granted independence in 1946, when they were saddled with the task of fashioning a truly national political life and an independent foreign policy. Philippine Independence Act (1934) Philippines;independence from U.S. Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934)[Tydings Macduffie Act]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Constantino, Renato. A History of the Philippines. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975. A clearly written historical analysis of the Filipino struggle against imperialism. Provides a regional examination of Philippine political, economic, sociocultural, and religious colonization; also includes an intellectual examination of the decolonization process. Excellent non-Western documentation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Delmendo, Sharon. The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004. History of the troubled relationship between the United States and the Philippines in the twentieth century. Examines several issues, including the long-term effects of American imperialism. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feuer, A. B. America at War: The Philippines, 1898-1913. New York: Praeger, 2002. Employs previously unpublished letters, diaries, and photographs to present a look at the Philippine-American War from the point of view of American soldiers, sailors, and marines who participated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gallego, Manuel. The Price of Philippine Independence Under the Tydings-McDuffie Act: An Anti-view of the So-Called Independence Law. Manila: Barristers Book Company, 1939. A Philippine account of the implementation of the act and the evolution of the commonwealth period; provides personal narratives documenting political, economic, and social oppression.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grunder, Garel A., and William E. Lively. The Philippines and the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951. An overview of the origin and evolution of U.S. policy toward the Philippine islands during the first half of the twentieth century. Explains how such policy affected American Filipino economic relations, examines the evolution of Filipino political institutions, and defines the structure of the independence of the Philippine nation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayden, John Ralston. The Philippines: A Study in National Development. New York: Macmillan, 1942. A somewhat patronizing account of the Philippine interaction with the United States during the first four decades of the twentieth century. Through primary source materials, provides a positive opinion of U.S. contributions to the development of an independent nation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. Journalistic account of the American imperial experience in the Philippines. Suggests that the U.S. attempts to remake the Philippines in its own image through the establishment of political, educational, and sociocultural institutions barely affected traditional Filipino values yet such activity resulted in a unique relationship between the two countries. Indexed with bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paredes, Ruby R., ed. Philippine Colonial Democracy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Analyzes the patron-client relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Suggests that the interaction was mutually corruptive for both nations: devastating to the evolution of Philippine democracy and detrimental to U.S. foreign policy. Indexed.

Insular Cases

Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States

Platt Amendment

Jones Act of 1917

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